Servetus’ private previews reports: What I heard from friends who were there

[This post was published retroactively, as explained here. Please beware that you may read things in this post that make you unhappy. A reminder that these posts are meant to track honestly the factors that influenced the revision of my decision to see The Crucible, and my decision to keep that process private. Perhaps my silence about this piece of the puzzle substantiates somewhat the comment I made here.]

You saw excerpts from my chats with Anonymous Correspondent about the first night of previews (one, and two, and three); I mentioned at the time that she does not consider herself a fan of Armitage, and she did not wish to be quoted as to her impressions of Armitage’s work in the play.

Excerpts from emails from two other friends who live in London, non-fans who saw the play during the first week of previews, partially at my request (although I did not coerce them), whose remarks also added to the things I was turning over in my mind that week.

UCLProf (saw it 6/24):

You know I love The Crucible, so I was happy to go to see it for you. But you’re not going to be happy about what I have to say. The staging of the play itself is remarkable, and I’m glad I saw it, but I’m sorry to report that your Mr. Armitage is a huge disappointment as John Proctor. I don’t know how they could possibly have cast him to headline this — critics are going to say after ten minutes of watching it that he only got the role because of The Hobbit. This fellow is supposed to have had RSC training? It’s hard to believe. His diction is so poor in the delivery of his lines that I often didn’t understand what he was saying. Especially when he was shouting, and he was shouting way too much. He’s supposed to be playing the main character but he never directs the course of a scene with his own energy and his default emotional state is unsubtle rage. His movements seem stiff — clumsy and awkward among a cast of actors who are moving almost as if they are dancing. The best he can hope for is that the critics simply not mention him in their reviews.

LondonFriend (saw it 6/26):

I know you’re really excited about this dude but he sure didn’t live up to what you’ve been saying about him. Every actor in the play did a better job than he did — it’s like he was acting for Peter Jackson with that stiff, theatrical, heavy-handed style that Jackson makes all his actors practice. No emotion except for a sort of pasted-on anger that had no variations and went on for what felt like hours and just tired me out to watch. I didn’t have a sense there was any depth to the character at all. Like, I couldn’t tell you who this John Proctor was, really, if you said, is he motivated by love or fear or desire or whatever — it was just all anger, all the time. It’s weird because he was also so hesitant, like he was almost afraid to take up his own allotted space, or like he was aware that we were watching. It was less bad in the first half and he did okay with the scenes with his wife. And you’re right that he looks good without a shirt! But he goes downhill quickly. It felt honestly like he didn’t have enough stamina to make it through the second half of the play. He was managing up until the interval, but he fell apart in terms of energy and attention halfway through Act Three. And you can tell — when he’s exchanging with Schiller and Ellis, who are both really, really snappy and alert — he just doesn’t have the chops to keep up in terms of energy, delivery of lines, nuances — he’s a babe in the woods on the stage and up against these really experienced, practiced stage actors, it shows to his detriment and it hurts the play. Act Four was a disaster, I didn’t really have any idea what they were on about.

I guess can you hope he gets better … I mean, I’m sure the director is in the audience giving him tips.

~ by Servetus on June 22, 2014.

15 Responses to “Servetus’ private previews reports: What I heard from friends who were there”

  1. Wow, it’s amazing how different perceptions and experiences can be. It doesn’t bother me in the least to read these. I suppose there are a always a certain percentage of viewers who don’t absorb the performance in the same way as most seem to.
    Do you have any other explanations? These accounts were before the stellar reviews came gushing out, right?

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    • Yeah, this was the first week of previews and they did some crazy number of them — I think 17 or 19 preview performances total? — so they must have thought they might have kinks to work out. Press night was July 3, iirc (would have to look it up again).

      The thing is that these were both people I trusted, with whom I share a lot of taste, and they were saying he wasn’t that good or indeed he was bad. I give a lot of credence to that.

      To me, some of it is just attributable to it being a long play (and it was 15 min longer that week than it is now) — if you’re not transfixed at every moment, you start to wonder why. But that didn’t explain the review of my friend who really likes this play, because he didn’t object to the length. Some of it is probably attributable to Armitage getting better at it. It’s true he hadn’t been on stage in a long time before this performance, although I think technically it was twelve years. Some of it was probably accurate, and when I saw the play, I saw remnants of some of this stuff (his line delivery, for instance, when he’s shouting).

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  2. Ouch ouch ouch. Those are pretty devastating reviews. Well, like Trudy says, it doesn’t bother me, either, because it was not like that when I watched the play. I don’t doubt the truth of their review – that’s what they perceived, and fair enough.
    I don’t think that reviews like this would have put me off seeing the play, though. They probably would’ve evoked a kind of a fortiori reaction in me. Not going into APM again, but this was preview time, the play not finalised, RA only just finding his feet again.
    Hehe, maybe you built up RA a bit too big, Serv ggg. But it didn’t matter, really, did it? Did your friends’ reviews really put you off Armitage or make you doubt his talent? Or did you doubt their wonky perception? 😉

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    • My reaction to them at the time was complicated b/c I was spending a week alone in the house for the first time since mom died and I was having all kinds of bombs go off in terms of the house and my emotions and my future and so on (dad was fishing). I was picking up the euphoria coming from fans; I was picking some of the negativity coming off of twitter (too long, too much shouting, ambivalence about Armitage — those were all things I could read independently of what friends were saying); and I was thinking about how Armitage’s work ultimately influenced my own emotional state. So there wasn’t a one to one correspondence from this stuff to my decision.

      I don’t bother defending Armitage, but I wouldn’t have published this stuff at the time, either and probably wouldn’t have published it now except that I’m documenting the decision. And I’m used to RL friends who know about this blog thinking I’m overinvested. People think what they think and in part I regretted in advance sending them to see a play I don’t especially like. But mostly I did wonder: what will happen for him, for me, if he is judged a failure at this?

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  3. You can correct me but since N&S he has been acting on TV and films, hasn’t he? We know he is always improving but I has always hear that stage is more skill demanding than TV and cinema.
    Anyway I will help you as soon as I watch him on Digital Theatre.
    P.S.: I must say your friends see to know what are the talking about.
    P.S.2: We trust you, Richard. ;D

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    • It’s a different art and Yael Farber said something about this in one of her interviews, that he was used to camera closeups and had to change his style for the stage.

      One of these friends is an extremely regular theatergoer, the kind of person who sees mostly the performances that are likely to be nominated for awards. The other is a friend of mine from grad school days who teaches in London now, someone who appreciates theater but isn’t an expert.

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  4. Hmmm, I was wondering what to make of these reviews….they do not show our RA in a good light. The press reviews were very good so I am not knowing what to think.

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    • the press reviews were two weeks after this. One thing to keep in mind.

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      • Ohhh, ok. Then I will think RA is a quick study!

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        • The point, I think, is not who is right / wrong — these reviews emphasize some things that have also been mentioned in both the professional press reviews and the blogger reactions to the play. So people have seen similar things in his performance to criticize; it’s a question of how they take them.

          What I am trying to put down for me is what I knew as I was making the decision, and I’m trying to make clear that I knew more than I was able to say on blog. Not sure what would have happened if I’d published either of these remarks when they actually took place.

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  5. I’ve read too many reviews that go totally the other way, and I know how talented Richard is and how he affects people in performance. There will always be naysayers–I simply choose not to believe them.

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    • Again, this isn’t about belief or not belief; this is a post about things I was being told by trusted sources during the week of previews. It goes to my decisionmaking process, not to anything you’re being asked to believe or not to believe.

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  6. I think it’s probably better that I close comments on this post. I can feel myself getting testy and that’s not what I want from doing this.

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  7. […] LondonFriend pops up at Caffè Nero, and she sits down for a coffee while I am writing the end of the above. She […]

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  8. […] discuss and shows stronger parallels to the U.S. 1940/50s in the area of social disciplining. When LondonFriend learned I’d be coming to see the play myself, she mused that I was perhaps the person she […]

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