Review: We are all Sonya
Richard Armitage Excels In Self-Directed Impromptu Performance
by Guylty Pleasure
Ever dreamed of acting on the same stage as Richard Armitage? Now you can! The Brit actor has returned to his theatre roots once again, and in an exciting twist performs a self-devised continuation to Uncle Vanya immediately after starring in the concurrently running Chekhov classic.
After The Stage Door (2014, Borough of Lambeth pavement) and Stage Door Runner (2016, off-Broadway sidewalk), seasoned live performer Richard Armitage revisits his experimental theatre ambitions once again, this time outside the Harold Pinter Theatre in London. In the four years that have passed since the handsome actor last dipped his toes in devising, directing and performing in this innovative yet most demanding of genres, the multi-talented thesp has put in further research for his self-produced sideline at red carpet events and fan conventions. The result is a smooth yet extremely evocative new production that is bound to prove a major success in the current theatre season.
It is a mild but wet January evening when the curtains rise for the first time on Richard Armitage’s latest production. 30 minutes after devastating the seated audience in the neighbouring Harold Pinter Theatre as a passionate but ignorant Doctor Astrov who blindly rejects the love offered to him by a young woman in favour of chasing unattainable bliss with someone else, Armitage takes the play outside the stage door and puts his philosophy into practice. His fans might disagree when he says that the audience isn’t there to see *him* do something, but “the point is,” Armitage explains, “I am there to help them feel something”. And feel something they do.
Armitage’s plot is simple, yet effective: Unannounced and unaccompanied, the actor steps outside the stage door where the audience has already assembled. As mobile phones flash, the assembled (predominantly female) public fixes their adoring gaze on the dashing “doctor”, (mostly) silently desiring the attention and autograph of the performer. In a twist to the original play, Armitage receives and returns the admiration with wide smiles and upbeat snippets of conversation, bending down to scribble his signature on the offered memorabilia, and gracefully fulfilling each and every selfie request. For a moment, we are all Sonya. Hopelessly in love with Doctor Astrov, as Armitage lets himself be enveloped in the admiration of his fans. And we are all Sonya once again when Armitage returns back to the stage door after he has signed all the autographs and accepted all the gifts: Disappointed that he has had to go and we will not see him again.
Armitage’s “Theatre of the Ad Hoc” is not for the timid. It demands courage, spontaneity, improvisation and water-resistance (on a wet January evening) – qualities that the 48-year-old has demonstrated time and again in his many film, TV and theatre roles. And after experimentation with human barriers (2014) and cordons (2016), Armitage’s decision to reduce the stage setting to the invisible circle of respect, is a brave show of trust in his audience. This is fan fiction at the highest level, bringing the bare essentials of the play (albeit covered with a sexy, waisted black leather number) straight to the Sonyas. “And you are awfully pleased about it, awfully…!”, says Astrov. Touché!
No doubt the first preview was an advance view of Doctor Astrov that allows the enterprising writer/director/performer a chance to test the waters and let the show settle down. There will be tweaks, and the performer will most likely get his part down ever more smoothly. But from this very earliest of stages, the show looks to be another resounding success, not least thanks to the committed and cordial involvement of the audience in the impromptu play. With the theatre-goers generously sharing pens, gracefully stepping out of the way to let others have a glimpse, and offering to take photos of each other, the play has received a promising start. It is to be hoped that the star of the show will continue to delight his audience by unswervingly sticking to this original script in the coming weeks. In the words of Sonya, “Then we shall rest.”
“Doctor Astrov” is performed Monday to Saturday at approx. 10.30pm outside the Harold Pinter Theatre, London until May 2nd, 2020. The event is unticketed and free. Spaces subject to availability. The performance is rated PG 13 (Parents strongly cautioned – some material may be inappropriate for children under 13). Observers welcome, participants are advised to bring writing material and/or camera as only autograph and photo requests will elicit reactive involvement in the performance of Mr Armitage.
DISCLAIMER/DISCLOSURE: The adage “Sonya” in this spoof review is used with the utmost of love and respect and is not intended as a put-down of the character Sonya in Chekhov’s play Uncle Vanya, any fan of Richard Armitage’s, or any Sonya, alive or deceased. Not least because yours truly’s real name is actually “Sonja”, too.