“Theatre of the Ad Hoc” Stuns West End

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.

 

41 thoughts on ““Theatre of the Ad Hoc” Stuns West End

  1. Oh my goodness this was everything!!! A total riot from start to finish. I loved it.

    I’m rather looking forward to mine, Kate and LoLo’s interpretations of Sonya in March. I have no doubt that all the performers at the stage door will be equally as gracious and generous with their writing implements and photography skills – just hope that Richard’s script won’t change too much by then!!

    A fantastically well-written blog post, I really felt as though I was actually there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, geez Louise, that’s really nice coming from you, queen of the quips 😉
      I can tell you, there are worse things than being a Sonya – in *that* particular context. He was all smiles and sweets, and I have actually just seen a tweet from tonight’s SD that prove he is also a copped-on nice guy.

      PS: May a RL Sonya/Sonja join your gaggle of Sonyas in March, too?

      Liked by 3 people

  2. What a great post! So glad you were able to have this experience and share it with us once again. (Funny how he always looks so slight… and yet when you see him like that amongst a crowd of people, you realize what a big guy he actually is.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • What else can we do but provide sport for our neighbours – or how does Mr Bennett phrase it in P&P? It’s all fun, all of it – being there in the moment, and reflecting on it. Glad if the fun of it came through in the post 🙂 And fingers crossed that you get to experience him live some day, too!

      Liked by 1 person

    • This time it was definitely “theatre in the round”, you are right. And it worked really well, because there was no shoving or pushing even though the space was very limited.

      Like

    • You’re welcome. It was just my first response. I am going to dive into a clear account without humorous tangents in another post.
      Here’s hoping it will stay like this for the rest of the run.

      Like

  3. Zee says it all really hehe!
    Honestly, I loved reading this. I have been waiting for these first pics and accounts for what seems like ages. Sounds like the stage door was a first class act by everyone involved. Hopefully Richard can maintain the momentum for the whole run. Do you think this role will be as exhausting as Proctor? The poor man seemed drained and dazed each time he did SD back then.
    PS I think I would’ve died a little every time I heard my name spoken by him *sigh*

    Like

    • The first SD was definitely a good experience. And yes, we also remarked that RA seemed much less exhausted than he did at the Crucible SD. Astrov is not nearly as demanding, I think – and he doesn’t die every night.
      And yes, I admit it gave me a bit of a thrill to hear RA say my name 😉 Now, if there was a recording of that available anywhere, I’d love to have that as the message tone on my phone *hehe*

      Liked by 2 people

      • IIRC stage door at The Crucible previews was similarly relaxed. It seemed to become more fraught as time went on when increasing numbers of professional autograph hunters appeared. Just an impression I have after nearly six years, am probably way off track in my thinking!!

        Like

  4. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ PER ARDUA AD ASTROV.

    THEATRE OF THE AD HOC. London, 14th January.
    Don’t miss this sparkling piece of entertainment as one Sonya boldly goes where all the others wish they’d gone themselves.

    All human life and emotion is here as the intrepid reviewer braves the elements and shoebox overnight accommodation to paint her skilful picture of the scene, executed by one of the most talented directors of theatreland. As always he extracts a meaningful performance from the supporting roles, and Sonja is there through every sigh and thud, making us experience each lingering detail with her.

    “Unmissable… A must read…” JennyS.
    “Don’t skip this or you will kick yourself…” Everyone else.

    This Sonja’s review of Doctor Astrov is available to read now on her Worldpress page.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Pingback: Mrs Maisel, The Stranger & Uncle Vanya | The Book of Esther

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