It’s time to stop fuseling and get a proper post about the SD at UV onto my blog. This is slightly out of order, because it probably would make sense to start the UV series of posts with a review of the play. But that has to wait another day. So, without much discussion of the day and the play *before* the SD, here’s an account of how the event went down.
After the play finished at about 10pm, I could see from my nice vantage point in the first row of the dress circle that people were rushing out of the theatre pretty quickly. Linda60 and I really took our time and very unhurriedly walked out of the theatre, bumbled a bit in front of it and then decided to look around the corner of the building to the SD. In case you are wondering – especially as Google Earth is of no help in this case due to large lorries in the pictures available – the SD of the Harold Pinter Theatre is located in Oxenden Street. So walking out of the main entrance of the theatre, you turn right and immediately right again. The stage door is about two thirds down the street and opens straight onto the pavement. The pavement itself is not too narrow, and there is no through traffic on the street, so the area is relatively safe and quiet without having to worry about passing cars.
There was already a small crowd of people gathered there, mostly near the stage door itself. The theatre had not cordoned the area off but metal barriers were leaning against the wall – for future use? The whole area was contained by parking lorries beside the pavement, but in some parts the crowd spilled over onto the street. Linda and I basically just joined a vague queue as we approached from Panton Street. We quickly started chatting with fellow fans, so much so that we actually did not even notice RA coming out. The enthusiastic “cheer” that usually greets any celeb at the SD, either passed us by or did not occur. I eventually spotted a tall guy with a grey baseball cap drawn into his face down the line. Double-take. Is that RA towering over the throng? It is! Either still standing on the steps of the SD, or just tall 😂. At roughly the same time, cast mate Anna Calder Marshall (Nana) left the theatre and squeezed herself between gathered crowd and barriers to go home. She didn’t stop, but I quickly threw a “thank you, wonderful play” into her general direction, she smiled and said thank you.
Richard immediately dived into the crowd and started receiving compliments, best wishes, gifts and requests for selfies and autographs. Definite bonus in SD situations: You can always tell where Richard is – because in a crowd and even over the general excited chatter, you can see him towering over most people. Even when he bends down to scribble his name or to take selfies. I thought it was interesting how the atmosphere was noticeably happy and positive. I could hear fragments of interactions, Richard sounding friendly, happy, saying ‘thank you’, ‘glad you liked it’, ‘oh that is very kind’, answering questions etc. While the crowd remained static, it was Richard who was moving through the gathered fans to sign and to take pictures.
It also felt rather unhurried and relaxed, not least because there was no security guard accompanying him; he was out there just on his own, carrying the gifts he had been given. I did not feel that there was any worry over crowd control – neither among fans nor him. It was all very well-mannered and respectful, as fans stepped out of the way once they had had their opportunity for a quick interaction, and RA evidently made every effort to greet every fan who wanted to have his autograph or photo. I was not pushed or shoved, even when RA came closer to where I was standing along the pavement. I scrambled for the theatre programme to have it signed by him – I also had a silver sharpie at the ready (because the programme cover is predominantly dark), but once Richard is in signing mode, the man is on a conveyor belt and signs anything that is held out for him – with his black sharpie. At least I had the wherewithal to actually also say something to him. I said ‘thank you, that was a great play’. (Of course I never even looked at him, only saw him sign my programme, and as I was immediately turning away (so rude!) he said ‘thank you, glad you enjoyed it’.)
I was already among the last quarter of the crowd to be ‘served’ by Richard. He continued posing and signing while I kicked myself over my inability to be a bit more expressive in my communications. I mean, man, come on, Guylty. Say something that he hasn’t heard before!!! But as it is, these SD encounters are fleeting. They are over in mere seconds, and unless you have made a conscious effort to *know* what you want to say beforehand, your chance to collect your thoughts passes too quickly. Given the chance, I would’ve liked to tell him how much I enjoyed him playing Astrov for laughs and that I felt he really did have comedic talent. (And as I quipped on Twitter, I could’ve said ‘Dad bod? My arse!’ – but only with half a bottle of vodka inside me 😂.)
I’d like to emphasise again how relaxed the whole SD felt. You can see in the photo above that RA was not crushed by fans. I was standing right there behind him, about a meter away. I had the impression there was almost an invisible circle of respect around him, i.e. people were conscious that he was there on his own, without security beside him, and I did not see anyone beleaguering him or coming too close for comfort. In fact, from the (much better) photos of other fans I have seen, gentleman RA did his usual trick of bending down into the frame of the selfies to get closer to his fans. (Aside: Interesting how RA looks much more relaxed in all of this, even though the parameters are way less strict than at RDC5 last year. I suppose he is familiar with what a SD entails – and wasn’t familiar with the photo shoots at the con, hence the difference?)
As for my photos – yeah, I broke my own rules and took pictures. They are meh, of course – due to an outdated iPhone and gloomy lighting on a rainy January evening. I still don’t have the heart (and the interest) to get a selfie with me and him. And I still hesitate to take pictures from closer up. But that is also due to another thing: I find my attention at the SD often split between watching the progress of the “signing tour” and chatting with my companions. Bad fan Guylty doesn’t wear her fan hat tightly enough, i.e. I am not fully zoomed in on RA. However, I appreciate that other fans take much better pictures at the SD and share them with us.
Once RA had worked his way through the crowd and given everyone an opportunity to get what they wanted (*coughs* within reason) he turned and went back inside the theatre via the stage door. We were all pretty elated at that stage – as I said, the experience had been a good one, with a respectful crowd and a relaxed RA. I think the whole SD lasted about 15 minutes, from about 10.30pm to 10.45pm. Compared with other SDs I have been present at, this one was by far the nicest for me. I felt no pressure (neither from myself nor from the crowd) and Richard seemed “present” and cheerful. In comparison, the Crucible SD, although well-organised, felt a bit more intrusive because RA back then must have been exhausted from the marathon play and the heavy burden of performing death-bound Proctor, while the SD at LLL appeared rather hurried and curt and almost intimidating due to the security guards accompanying RA quite closely.
So, in conclusion, I’d like to broadcast a little thank you to Richard into the ether. When we queued at the SD, I was not at all sure whether he would make an appearance at all, just based on the assumption that the cast might gather immediately after the first preview for a lessons learned session, thus not having much time for fan meets. However, RA was out pretty quickly – which was doubly nice because the evening was drizzly and unpleasant, and he thus relieved the gathered fans from the rain. I also appreciated that he made every effort to fulfil all requests for autographs and pictures – and did so really unhurriedly, calmly and patiently. It was a fan-friendly occasion, and that really made my heart soar. You rock, Richard!