Theatrical Armitage

Theatrical, we say, and it’s not a compliment. Dramatic. Like it’s too much. Theatrical — not truthful.

Are some people most truthful when they’re being dramatic? Are you that person? Is that what it is for you, to be an actor, to tell the truth by making a version of yourself up? Being yourself by being someone else for other people? Putting together a sophisticated, plausible artifice, to tell us the truth?

I spend a lot of time wondering what it’s like to be Richard Armitage, what goes through your mind at any given time. What it was that made a boy from outside Leicester dream of the stage despite everything that spoke against it. Why and what you dreamed, with such devotion, for so long. What it was that kept you going when you decided to focus on television and what it was that kept you thinking of stages all these years.

tumblr_n81h1i6vCn1sw0250o3_1280 Richard Armitage, photographed by Lefteris Pitarakis, Old Vic theater stalls, June 26, 2014. Source: AP Images.

What you think now.

What it is you think when you step through the stage door of the Old Vic before a performance? Will it ever be normal for you, just a thing you do? What it is that’s running through your mind every night, when you’re done with the play, with the stage door, with the trip home, when you slam the door and lock it behind you? Is there a memory you treasure for yourself, something you take out to look at every now and then, when you need it?

I wonder.

And then I saw this the other night, a photo no one should have taken. First a photo from far away.


The applause, John Proctor still there, bare footed, head slightly bowed — I don’t know where you are in your range of motion here, perhaps Richard Armitage has just bowed and John Proctor is disappearing. You seem to be inhabiting your body only gingerly, as if there’s something sharp under your feet, or you’ve simply resigned yourself to Proctor’s fate. The stoop.

And then this one, closer up:


The position of your head, the alignment of your legs and your arms with your legs, the fingers in your right hand. When you say you can feel the audience breathing Proctor’s breaths? I can feel you breathing in this photo, filling your lungs, the nostrils widening slightly.

I saw these photos and I thought, this complex choreography of movement and physical attitudes, of emotions, and words, and interactions, this hugely precise and yet emotional, always potentially spinning out of control dance, the simmering that leads to the explosion — this is what you were born to do, and yet how did you know? You inhabit the space with simultaneous humility and sovereignty, seemlessly fitting into what happens and controlling it through your presence.

Always being just a little bit outside of the margins of who you are? Is that where the thrill comes from?

Do your knees ever shake, inside those trousers?

I used to think you were all control, still before a camera, suppressing your energy like a charging missile — till I saw these pictures. It’s not just your face although there’s so much to be said about that, sorcerer. But that extra little bit of slippage of feeling that comes through the gesture that’s just a bit larger than normal? The extra layer you’re putting in? It’s all motion, kinetic energy — your arm extends and you burst, it penetrates through your person through the scene through the photo through the screen. I see it, that just a little bit extra that falls into the atmosphere and bounces everywhere.

Screen shot 2014-06-29 at 2.11.26 PM

In the extra little tension in your thumb that makes you look taken aback.

Screen shot 2014-06-29 at 2.12.08 PM

In the way your circular motion seems halfway to have left the ground

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Or in the way that the same walk, that same strong left leg, ties you, farmer, firmly to the earth, the stride that mirrors the sneer on your face, the expulsion of those vehement consonants, the way you push and push at this girl with your mouth and your nose and your swinging neckcloth and with every line of your body. The way you spiral your body around its core, the way you draw out a crowded arc of tension.

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And always the hands, the arms. The hands that hold something not quite there, something you wish you could describe or think you could touch, if you could only find it within their span. The entreaty, perhaps — or even just the explanation. It is here, you seem to say, your hands insist. Here! Here. Here.

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even as John Proctor holds the thing he will reject, having found out what it is and that he cannot tolerate it, even as you encompass that thing so gently within your grasp.

It’s always just a little bit more — you show us always just a tiny bit more — theatrical. Dramatic — signalling without telling but always hinting at a truth that’s inside the gesture and outside of it, larger than it, somehow. More than we might need on an ordinary day, but not more than we need for the theater, these powerful signals, so energetic this time, so somehow unstill.

What dream did you dream, all those years ago? What dream did you dream for yourself, for us tonight? What truth will your artifice tell us, this time, next time?


[photos with watermarks found at The Geraint Lewis Collection.]

~ by Servetus on July 2, 2014.

31 Responses to “Theatrical Armitage”

  1. Very poetically written. You really do have a way wiith words. I too wonder what he’s thinking and feeling about this play. Does he consider this as just another job or something more? Who is he when gives these interviewss: his public persona or John Proctor? Part of me thinks it’s all just business on the ladder of career success for him, but another (maybe the fangurl who wishes him well?) wonders. Not sure why.


    • Yes, judiang. It seems he sees it as something more. He’s always “himself” when he does interviews, IMO. As he is in that moment. Reflecting his honest thoughts about who he is in that moment. He is always in that moment. I don’t believe he is someone plotting career success. He makes too many honest mistakes in some of the thoughts he shares for that. He says what he thinks.


      • I wouldn’t dispute your views. I suppose I take a harder view of things. I think he shows us his public persona, not to be a liar or fake, but as a necessary buffer between the world and his private self. We can never really know who “he” really is. I do agree he’s telling us what he feels in that moment, although I’m not sure he’s a person who lives in the moment. I do believe he’s an ambitious man who knows where he wants to go in his career and seeks to make it happen, although he may get sidetracked, as he implied in an interview.


        • It’s an interesting conundrum. To me, it’s just like he says what he’s thinking at the minute, and it’s not necessarily consistent with what he’s said before. Overall, yes, I agree he’s an ambitious man who knows what he’s doing and where he wants to go. But to me he can’t seem to help responding in the moment – to the particular question asked by that particular person. Just my take. Agree totally we don’t know who “he” really is! I do love “the man” though! 😀


      • see remarks below about either / or. You don’t get this far in such a demanding career without a plan — and he suggested in his last interview, in fact, that he had one, that he’d decided to pursue tv and film roles in order to get to come back to the stage. (How coherent that choice was is another open question.) That doesn’t mean you’re only about the plan. But there are many indices of strong ambition and making plans to achieve goals visible in his early career. That doesn’t mean he always executed well.

        Interviews in the media always only show one perspective. They are not reality.


    • I think it’s hard to work at such a high level in career like this (and make all the attendant sacrifices) without it being a calling. Which doesn’ tmean he’s not ambitious. The two can coexist. I’m trying to stop drawing parallels to my own life, but there was a time when — when I used a book from the 16th century at a European library, or walked into a particularly well known institution as an invited speaker — it was like, wow, S, I can’t believe you get to do this. It never got the point where I was like, oh, whatever the British Library. I do think that some people get to a point in their careers, again working at such a high level, where inhabiting the places of power becomes “normal” for them. It may take longer for that to happen to him just because he’s not from the kind of background where people assume that they are important. I just wonder where he is in this process. And I don’t think it’s ever either / or. Yes, a job like this is a calling; yes, a job like this is a job. It’s both / and.


  2. Simply: Yes to all. Thanks.


  3. Beautiful and enthralling piece of writing, Servetus. As above, yes!


  4. Beautiful piece of prose. I to have wondered at times what is on his mind. I still like to think that it is more than just another job to him.


  5. I just feel incredibly lucky to know I’ll be seeing HIM – in person, on this stage in exactly 2 months. I see his pride in his performance in that bow photo. I feel the longing in your writing. Living vicariously through the illicit voyeuristic photography and fan reports. This is likely the closest many people, including yourself, will get to experience his performance. I wish I could take you all in my pocket. Living the dream – all of us together. The artist and the audience.


  6. I don’t know if I could have described the emotional, or theatrical (?) aspect of his performance, his thoughts during performances and inbetween in such a perfect manner. Probably not. Not even after having seen TC to which I am tightly looking forward to. And I don’t know if the mere presence in the theatre itself will give me the advantage of seeing him so meticulously as you do in your post. Thank you very much for this!
    I still hope the play might be moved to the US in some time – perhaps you’ll all get the chance to see him act as many of us do now. And yes – those 2 pics where he bows after the play are really impressive: at first sight I said no. 1 is Proctor bowing to the audience, no. 2 is the transformaton Proctor-Armitage, the actor back on stage instead of the role. I always get the impression he does not merely act, he IS that person described in the role – an impression he manifests in recent interviews.


    • I need to write more about those photos — they slammed me in the gut and it wasn’t easy to tell why at first.


  7. I love this post. Thank you for writing and sharing. Lots of good stuff to mull over today. The ideas of dreams realized, living them vicariously through another gives us the strength to pursue our own dreams.

    Gosh, fingers crossed I can go see this play …


  8. It’s a beautifully written post, Serv, I have mulled over the same questions at times. Maybe one day I will see him perform on stage. For now, I will have to content myself with, as @Rob says, living dreams realized vicariously through others. I pursue my own dreams now . . . as I breathe, I hope.
    Thank you.


    • I think one thing that seems to happen to a lot of fans is that we do pursue our own dreams in line with Armitage inspiration. It doesn’t have to be about Armitage per se.


      • I definitely think being a fan of Richard Armitage has inspired and encouraged me to have dreams and goals and to go after them. I’ve also seen skills I developed as a fangurl translate into skills I could use in a real life business and make money with them—and that’s been really exciting. So RA has been a catalyst.


  9. Thank you for articulating this so well. I’ve thought about this a lot recently, especially looking at all these photos, and you have expressed some interesting thoughts about the transformation of an actor into a role and back out again. How well can you ever know anyne?


    • Thanks for the comment and welcome.

      I wonder if the “how well does one know another person” question is particularly acute for actors.


  10. Thanks for the kind comments about the writing!


    • I always enjoy your writings and the way you “see”. I don’t think anyone who is not close to Richard- ie family or personal friends can really know the real him or what makes him tick.He really seems driven and multi faceted, and yes, ambitious but I think that has to be a given if you are an actor doesn’t it?
      I went to see The Crucible on 30th.I had an aisle seat four rows back and the cast came in and out right beside me.A lot of the time Mr A was very close us, and the emotion was very real.He cried real tears-his nose was running! What I’m trying to say – badly! – is that I think what he does for a living matters to him and he gives it his all.When he made his final exit his hand brushed my arm and I was looking up at his eyes which were filled with tears. I can’t wait to go again , I was, and still am very moved. Sorry if I’ ve gone off track or for too long!


      • some people would say, only Richard knows the real Richard. We always see through a series of mirrors and filters, no matter who we are …

        it sounds so emotional. I wonder how he manages to cry like that eight times a week!


        • I think he must be a deeply empathetic person—really able to put himself in someone else’s shoes, and walk their walk, to be able to shed real tears like that so reliably. And, of course, a very skilled and disciplined and yes, ambitious actor. He never fails to intrigue me, that one.


        • Maybe he needs that continuous drainage of sensitivity ?
          Beautiful post,Servetus.


        • That repetitiveness of stage acting is something I can’t comprehend either….. I think I’m fairly empathetic, but pulling the same stops out 8 times/week is unimaginable. All I can imagine is that a good stage actor must both feed off the live audience energy and turn some aspects of the performance into sort of a psychological “muscle memory”….? Gotta know what you’re doing, I guess, pretty amazing.


  11. Amazingly beautiful and thought-provoking, Servetus. I think you may be right… perhaps his truth is bigger than life – and he must become bigger than life in order to tell it. Thanks so much for sharing this.


  12. […] all through The Crucible, as the production’s pictures suggested to us a while back, Armitage’s energy is also kinetic. His circular motion moves him around but it also ties him to the ground; he uses the space of the […]


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