Fangirl in a Tunnel

Today I was working on updating the RAnet news section with the Times magazine interview and other mentions, when yet another UV review came in. Whatsonstage reviews the filmed play that doesn’t just talk about the play as such but the way it was filmed. There are some interesting additional extras there that I would love to see (the beginning and the end of the film – details in the screen shot article below) but at this stage I am pretty sure that cinemas in Ireland will be closed and I won’t get to see UV.

Reading the review, it occurred to me how I often have tunnel vision when it comes to my favourite actor. You see, for *me*, Richard Armitage had a starring role in UV. That impression is supported by the fact that he shares top billing for the play together with Toby Jones. So to me as a fan it feels as if he plays a major role in the play, and when watching the play I was more or less fixated by intensely perusing Armitage’s performance. The tunnel vision created a magnifying glass effect, letting Astrov appear bigger than he was, considering that he is *actually* a supporting character in a play that focuses mainly on the titular character as well as his niece, with the brooding doctor providing side notes of prescient environmental concerns and 21st century burn-out warnings. So when I read a review as the one above, I often feel disappointed by the lack of more praise for my favourite actor. “A rugged, earnest Richard Armitage” is all that we are getting in this review, and I feel outraged at the snubbing of this majorly talented, always-overlooked actor – until I realise again that by all means he is *not* the major player in this piece of theatre. It’s not the reviewer who has overlooked the merits of this capable thesp, but it’s me as a reader, who has lost her sense of proportion…

I am a fangirl in a tunnel, not looking left or right, but only staring ahead at the one thing person that I am interested in. When focussing so intensely on only just one actor and the *few* things he is in, it is easy to forget that there are other fish in the pond – who may actually be bigger and have brighter colours. RA feels like a big thing to me. But “Armitage” is still not quite a household name. Top billing or not, fact is that RA is somehow stuck “in the second row”, as we say in German. I.e. he is not in the spotlight. Not because of lack of talents, but – the Times magazine piece from the weekend has put that into sharp relief for me – for his reluctance to play the celebrity game. I still kind of like that about him – although the fangirl in me would love for the tunnel to lead to Graham Norton’s red couch. But I also regret it because as a fan I’d love to see him praised much more…

47 thoughts on “Fangirl in a Tunnel

    • And I haven’t even mentioned that I also – selfishly – think that it is great he is not a “first row” player because that means the fandom remains somewhat manageable…

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  1. At Love, Love, Love, a fan girl I was sitting with pointed out that you could identify the fangirls in the audience by who was watching RA even when he wasn’t talking. All heads would swivel to the other side of the stage when some other character spoke…except for certain heads (mostly women).

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  2. Not having seen the play 😭😭😭 I can’t comment on his role. Just to say that the MARKETING certainly played it up as him and TJ being the main players. ALW was nowhere to be seen, was she? The early poster was also just the two men. That might not be reflective of the play, but if that’s the case, then they certainly played up that angle to put bums in seats. And it would of course color your expectations and possibly perceptions.

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    • Yeah, it was kinda clear to me even before I saw the play that they overemphasised his role. I mean, it’s clear from the Chekhov text that Astrov is nowhere near as much in focus as is Vanya. So you are right, the expectations were very clearly raised by the marketing.

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  3. I’m sure I’m not adding to your analysis of this text if I point out that this is a review of the filmed version, which I think (and as the author notes) is the more important question at this point — after a short summary of the play, the text turns to what is added by the format, and by the change in cast. Armitage gets the same parenthetical comment as everyone else but Allam, and Ross McGibbon gets most of the attention. In short, the point here wasn’t actually a review of the drama.

    Whatsonstage.com did not neglect Armitage. Its original review of the production said this, in a comment that takes up only slightly less space than that about Jones: “Armitage brings the same finesse to his portrayal of Astrov; he is a romantic, clinging to his dreams of the future, seduced by the perfect woman, unable to see the truth in front of his nose. But he is also a man deeply damaged by his profession, by the suffering he has witnessed, the poverty he can do nothing to cure.”

    https://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/reviews/uncle-vanya-harold-pinter-armitage_50759.html

    Armitage prefers ensemble pieces to roles that put him alone under the spotlight (this has pretty much been an interview theme since the beginning of his career), and Astrov is a supporting role in this play — Vanya is the lead and the central conflict of the play occurs between Vanya / Sonja and the professor, who are in competition both over their way(s) of life and their romantic interest. Astrov complicates the romance aspect of the plot, but it seem to me primarily as a canvas upon which to evaluate their choices; he is primarily an observer who comments / sheds light on the other characters. He is pretty much the same person at the end of the play as he was at the beginning (and maybe that’s why McPherson didn’t give him a monologue). To some extent, I find it remarkable that Armitage has gotten as much attention out of this as he has. Obviously I haven’t seen this version so I can’t comment on whether Armitage is massively better or worse here than he was in January, but all in all, notwithstanding being one of the people whose heads turn when Armitage moves on stage, I don’t need the theater press to share or affirm my crush. Armitage himself has never seemed to be in it for the reviews.

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    • Yeah, my fangirl focussed comments probably do not sit quite right with this particular review. As you said – it’s very specifically about the filmed play, not the play as such. Moreover, the play itself had already received all the reviews, so they didn’t repeat themselves here. Which is a good thing, of course. I guess I just got distracted by my own subjective response to the review, and my musings on how *I* as an Armitage fan, occasionally forget that he is not as big a deal for non-fans…. hence my “tunnel comparison”.
      ” I find it remarkable that Armitage has gotten as much attention out of this as he has.” True – there are a couple of standalone pieces about Armitage on the back of the cinema release of UV. Again, suffering from tunnel vision, I am not aware whether the (other) protagonists have received as much attention in the press? If not, then I wonder why RA? Is it because he has been active in RTing the promo on Twitter? I occasionally get the impression that the press pricks up their ears when Armitage tweets, and follows up. Although that may actually rather be the less quality press but outlets that basically get their content from cannibalising first hand or other publications’ content?
      He’s definitely an ensemble player, much to his credit. He’s good at it, too, and maybe he doesn’t appreciate the pressure that a major, alone-standing role would place on his shoulders. Even the way he spoke about the Hobbit promo in the Times’ pieces, hints to me of that…

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      • Maybe Hari would know if there’s been other press about this. I’d guess the only other person who’d draw media attention would be Jones; the rest of the cast is of lesser media interest, with the possible exception of Aimee Lou Wood (although I’m guessing not necessarily to the audiences of The Times and What’s On Stage). I mean, in the end I don’t know because I’m not interested in the rest of them (laughs). Attention is so selective — thinking of Armitage’s remark that he hadn’t realized Jones had played Dobby.

        I think we’re going to run into this again and again and to some extent it’s selfperpetuating — The Crucible being the exception, and maybe he didn’t enjoy that attention (Oliver nom notwithstanding). If you’re in a play with a bigger name, the bigger name is expected to carry the weight of the publicity. (That was the deal with LLL, too, Amy Ryan was the person the Roundabout audience wanted to see.) I’ve seen him on stage three times now and I always feel him as taking up space mostly involuntarily. I think if you want to be a true headliner, you have to push yourself forward more than he has ever shown signs of doing, at least within my perception.

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        • Presumably it is just the way he wants – he gets to play theatre without the weight of carrying the promo on his shoulders. It’s understandable. (And my post is just a fangirl, whining 😉 – coming from a different perspective as him, of course.) I think you are right with your perception that he is not willing to push more. Fair enough. I get it. It’s even something I sympathise with.

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          • my forecast back in 2012 was that he’d use the Hobbit money to set himself up so he could have the stage career he always wanted to have. I didn’t reckon with the pause to pursue Hollywood. But he (as with all of us) has had a lot of shakeups in the last decade, it seems. I really don’t think we can judge him for not doing things we wouldn’t do ourselves.

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            • True. It’s a personality thing. And a matter of priorities. I’m glad he isn’t listening to my fangirl wishlist of things he should do but pursuing his career in the way he sees fit. It’s precisely because he *isn’t* playing to the audience, that he has kept my interest…

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  4. It’s very simple for me. I have only one favourite actor, I don’t have time for anyone else. I am not a film/theater critic, I don’t have to be unbiased and have a broad view. I have no shame in my narrow tunnel vision. Yes, I want him to be on spot, to have all possible screen/stage time, to be praised everywhere. He definitely deserves more. But I am also fine with him as he is. I wouldn’t want him to be everywhere, as other popular actors are. I like him to be a bit of a mystery.
    Thank you for maintaining RAnet site. 🙏🏻❤️

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  5. I am somehow surprised by the attention the filmed version is getting, that in itself is already unusual, as it doesn’t happen normally. But i bet theatre critics, who loved this to begin with are as thirsty as we are of performances and enjoy the fact that they get to see this and comment on it again. Also it is unusual in that it has been filmed in such strange circumstances.
    So the reviews seem to focus more on how it resonates with our times, how they felt if you will seeing it. It’s such a strange time for the London theatre community, theatre goers, artists, critics alike. ALW i think got additional attention because she did win that newcomer award if i remember correctly. Toby Jones has been in a few telly things recently so it has attracted connected attention if you will.
    But the reviews to me read mostly as just enjoying seeing something , being sad it’s without an audience and also thinking about how much it resonates with the times.
    Objectively i guess, though i’ve never thought about it this way due to – surprise – tunnel vision, Vanya and his family are at the center of things, as their lives, already pretty damaged are shattered by the end. And while the doctor is sort of part of the family as he does languish alongside, he also ultimately escapes or is able to escape their reality, even though his own might not be very cheerful either.

    I just feel everyone’s frustration that just as this gets released we’re all heading back into lockdown,… so not many people will be able to go out to see this 😦 However, as the NT live just proved there is plenty of scope for repeats, so if we do end up heading to lockdown, which looks very likely for both you and us here in London i am sure there will be more screenings further along as they will want more people to be able to see it.
    But it still warms me that critics and theatregoers are united in this experience around something maybe many have missed but we do get a 2nd chance, which is really lucky, would have been so sad. You know the environmental theme in Astrov’s speech makes me want to see a chat between him and David Attenborough, i think that would be nice 🙂 Also, although i get he doesn’t like those talk shows where people are invited ti basically perform a version of themselves, and there are plenty of those, i think Graham Norton isn’t one of them. Yes some people perform but he finds the right tone for all guests and he hasn’t met one who he hasn’t been able to make comfortable or have a nice pleasant conversation with. And rich does do well talking 1 on 1 about his work, i’d love to see him talk to Graham sometime, in spite of his aversion to chat shows as i think his is unlike any other. But happy also if he does do the occasional talks about his work as he;s always great to listen to. Just hope there will be more work, especially stage work coming. Sometimes i think maybe he is fairing better in these times than many of us, and i mean that from a mental balance point of view and being content in his own company maybe.. But who knows, he must be wanting to get busy too.

    Aside from all of that, the new photo is absolutely gorgeous! Well, it’s not new, it#’s from the Audible set for Jackman, but it’s just totally brilliant in every way. Love it.

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    • You are so right – the attention the filmed play is receiving, is very much also a reflection of the live theatre-starved times we are in. Not to mention the recent major undermining of the culture sector by the UK government. (I am still seething about that poster of the dancer who is being recommended to hang up her dancing shoes and become a call-centre agent instead. A campaign clearly devised and signed off by people who think that a nation’s wealth is only counted in numbers, not in its cultural sophistication…)
      I actually liked very much about the review that it decidedly looked at Uncle Vanya *as a film* (not merely the play). I still have that Oscars idea in the back of my mind, and how the filmed play could potentially be submitted for consideration of the Academy. The review thus pushes that thought.
      As for my tunnel vision – yep, entirely caused by my fangirl focus on Mr A. I won’t deny that I was slightly miffed that Astrov is not a bigger character in the play. All complete nonsense on my part, of course. But then again, what is “rational” about being a fan 😉 ??
      On a personal level, with lockdown now announced for me here in Ireland, the review is a harsh reminder that I will MISS OUT on something that sounds really good. I think it is Servetus who said it in one of her posts, but being able to see the action from much closer than you can ever see it live in the theatre, is a great attraction for me. Having seen the play only once – and being distracted by looking out for RA most of that one time – I am sure I missed many nuances. So fingers crossed that there will be other opportunities to the film. Eventually.
      I’d love to see RA in a relaxed, personal chat environment. Ok, or if that is too private for him, then a round-table talk among actors where he can stick to professional insights only, is fine with me, too. Graham Norton would be great – for the reasons you have mentioned. (I am always in awe at how funny and conversational Norton keeps the show. He really is a master at chatting. Irish “gift of the gab”? The only thing I’d worry about, is Norton pulling up one of his stupid fan-shaming tricks, confronting RA with some juicy Bagginshield fan art. I mean, I like the fan art, but I dislike how he uses it for cheap laughs at the fans’ (and also the actors’) expense.)


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      • Yup, this re: Norton. It also puts the actor in a horrible position — do they agree with Norton that fans are nuts, or do they defend fans on the basis of what is a minority behavior? I have this vague memory of seeing Aidan Turner in this position on Norton — except I think the fan was in the audience and wanted to give him something. Norton clearly wanted to jerk the fan around and Turner wasn’t having it.

        Norton was actually the concrete reason Calexora left / went underground / deleted her blog. She saw something he did to a fan on his show that immediately switched her off. A shame that she let him ruin her pleasure but that’s his goal, apparently.

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        • I think that is the general sense I get from those moments on the show – that the actors feel very embarrassed. Not on their own behalf but because they are not comfortable with having Norton shaming their fans publicly. They are somehow torn between defending their fans, and playing along with the host. It’s an unfair situation to be placed in. To be clear – I don’t think it is necessarily wrong to show fan art on TV, even though it is somewhat problematic to rip fan art from its context. But the way Norton always chooses “sexual” fan art, puts a particular spin on it. The other thing is, that at this point the whole “look at what those mad fans are creating” shpiel is lame. It’s been done a thousand times; find something new, Norton.
          It is really, really regrettable that Calexora felt she had no other option but to retreat – and even prophylactically!
          I also remember a particularly nasty incidence of fan shaming – involving Edith Bowman, I think?

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    • Can’t share your respect for Graham Norton so much, as he regularly shames / ridicules fans (although — haven’t watched since the last time I saw him doing this, which was years ago, so maybe he’s changed his MO), but agree with the rest.

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  6. Yes I agree about the tunnel vision, RA is generally my only interest in a review, it’s frustrating when he isn’t mentioned (when other supporting cast are) or given a mealy-mouthed comment on his performance. I hope you do get to see UV in the cinema. If not, the BBC screening may well turn up on Vimeo, many productions do.

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  7. I remember my dismay when UV was first announced and was only slightly mollified when someone pointed out that Laurence Olivier had played Astrov
    I think he did do as much as was possible with the role and he did get to plant some trees😂

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    • Oh, he was great, and I think the role really resonated with him personally. I get the impression he likes to play loners, or people who are slightly on the fringes – maybe he feels he shares that insularity.

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  8. I remember my dismay when UV was first announced and was only slightly mollified when someone pointed out that Laurence Olivier had played Astrov
    I think he did do as much as was possible with the role and he did get to plant some trees😂

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  9. Interesting piece and comments. I’m a big fan of Ciaran Hinds, as well as Richard Armitage, so enjoyed many aspects of Uncle Vanya.

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    • I have seen Ciaran Hinds in a number of high-profile plays over the last few years. Unfortunately he was always in supporting roles. I’d love to see him in a lead role at some stage…

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      • I believe Ciaran Hinds had a major role in a NY redo of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I think he played Big Daddy, not one of the 2 main characters, but a major character. Mr. Hinds played a more major role in a Connor McPherson play that we saw on Broadway a few years ago. I believe it was called “The Seafarer.” He played a character who appears unexpectedly, appearing as a man of course, but he turns out to be the Devil in human form. Ciaran obviously had a lot of fun with the role. All the actors seemed to love the play since I think all the main characters were Irish and it’s an Irish story by an Irish playwright. Ciaran forgot his lines at one point and flubbed a little bit, but recovered nicely. It was fun to see him and the other actors trying not to dissolve into laughter when that happened. That’s what I miss about live theater. You never know what’s going to happen. Each performance is a little bit different.

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        • Yep, he has a regular cooperation going on with Conor McPherson. I’ve seen him in “The Girl from the North Country” and “Hamlet”, too.
          Love the story about him messing up his lines. That’s what makes live theatre so exciting. And tbh, I’d be thrilled to be witness to something like that. It makes the “star” so much more “human” when something like that happens.

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  10. Pingback: TBT Hannibal: Colleague Compliments + News: RA Writes a Crime Novel (Apparently) 😲 | Guylty Pleasure

  11. For me it’s almost the other way around – Richard is usually part of the ensemble for me (I think his last real lead role was John Proctor) so I rarely expect him to be singled out. When he does get singled out positively, even if only in one line, I grin gleefully.The only exception for me may have been Berlin Station where from the marketing I expected him to be the clear lead and he really was not.
    As for chat shows – I always feel like Richard’s not A-list enough to be invited on, say, Graham Norton and his projects aren’t either (The Hobbit and The Crucible excepted and for The Hobbit he again was part of an ensemble with all the real attention on Bilbo aka Martin Freeman). So, while he tends to turn down chat shows, I really wonder whether he was ever really invited on Norton. Like you, I would love to see him on there except for the fan shaming that I know will go with it (I really enjoy watching Norton chat with his guests, except when he gets a little too into his own jokes and when he gets into fan actions, that always makes me cringe).
    I would love for Richard to get some more A-list, good projects, but on the other hand I kinda like that he’s not too big and well-known.

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    • Yes to all of this, Esther. Richard is definitely an ensemble player – he does it well, and that comes across and elevates the whole play. Hehe, but that doesn’t keep me from wishing he’d get singled out more :-).
      Berlin Station was really weird in that regard – there he was, billed as the star of the show. That was not really reflected in the script. And yet, it was RA who was basically the face of the marketing and promo. (And btw – he claims he isn’t good at chat shows, but he did very well in all of those promo events for BS iirc.)
      You could be right – I don’t really think that he *was* ever invited to Norton or other chat shows. I’m sure that the guest list there does not exclusively reflect whom Norton (and his team) want to see on the couch. I bet that it’s also up to the agents to get their clients into such shows. And if RA has told his agent that he’s not keen on that – well, then his name won’t come up. Fair enough – it’s his decision.
      Completely agree with your last paragraph. Very selfishly.

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