Friday, August 29th: Armitage blurs, part 2

Continued from here. And with the ongoing caveat that I am now mostly just transcribing from my journal and talking about how I felt then.


old vicBack at the hotel, we talk a bit about LondonFriend’s collision with the Armitage and her conviction that certain kinds of energy draw things into motion. I’m still so bemused by the whole thing that I can’t process it. I write down my impressions and try to let it go. We talk about this and that, then I change clothes and we walk back toward Old Vic Theatre. LondonFriend’s ticket is in the Lillian Baylis Circle this time, so we part ways in the theater lobby, with me doing my now-usual thing — leaning against one of the columns in the lobby, angled on the heals of my boots, watching the crowd.

I’m in the same place as last night, C8 stalls; LadySquid is seated in the lower circle and I catch her eye and she waves to me. The people seated to my right this time are theatergoing regulars, not Richard Armitage’s fans, but they say this play is turning into the summer “must see,” although they are skeptical.

This is my fifth viewing of the play, so I am starting to look for specific things, to start to answer my questions about Richard Armitage, about other things. But I can still be surprised, I find. At Armitage’s entrance, for the first time, I notice his hands in a posture of prayer just before he grasps the banisters of the stair to the stage. At a later point, the light shines through his eye lashes, and through the pieces of his chest hair that I can see. And, too, I can see Proctor’s expression as he’s on the staircase for the brief moment that he seems about to leave, before Abigail accuses him, all the way across the stage — his head’s tilted more in my direction. The positioning in the round means that the slight movements can make all the difference to what we see, and my different perspectives on the action make me see the play differently every night. What an amazing gift.

Richard Armitage John Proctor

John Proctor (Richard Armitage) insists that he never gave Abby any reason to hope he would come back to her, in Act One of The Crucible

I think again that the beginning of this play is simply too slow for a twenty-first century audience, and it’s slightly slower tonight. Armitage’s entrance tries to pick up the speed of the scene — his anger on the staircase is more noticeable in the percussion and energy of his steps. He is cooler, brusquer, more commanding with Mary. But it doesn’t really speed up the scene, or at least not immediately, until all the girls leave and he’s alone with his paramour. His interaction with Abigail is angrier, faster, and the moment of disgust in self-recognition that was so pronounced last night is nearly gone. Proctor seems more closed-off, stony. As he and Abigail do their circular dance around the stage, instead of his face reflecting the posture of his body, it seems rather that his face is fighting with his body, which is much less eager to respond to or concede the accuracy of Abigail’s charges and pleading. Just at the end of that thread of the scene, as Abigail charges “you love me yet” and Betty’s possessed twitches begin right behind them, this Proctor seems much more physically aggressive than on the previous night. All through the scene, Armitage has been playing Proctor more angrily, rougher, further up the status scale with regard to the women. As a result, when the others enter, he gets many more laughs, although he’s still clearly not playing for comedy and some of the funniest lines get drowned.

In Act Two, it almost seems like Proctor doesn’t expect (or want?) forgiveness from Elizabeth. He doesn’t seem so much physically tired, like he was on Wednesday. It’s more that he’s resigned and is willing to let that resignation get pushed into impatience and then in turn let his impatience burst out into resentful anger. His impatience is clearer in the scene around the salting, where he’s less disgusted and more incredulous, and there’s a good deal more entrenched shame in his face throughout. At the same time, we can tell, his emotions are making him tired. His posture while washing ends in a position much closer to physical collapse. The water runs all the way down his back into his trousers. It seems, perhaps, that he realizes his exhaustion in the middle of that sequence, because he puts his shirt back on more slowly.

John Proctor (Richard Armitage) threatens Mary Warren, in Act Two of The Crucible.

John Proctor (Richard Armitage) threatens Mary Warren, in Act Two of The Crucible.

Tonight, Proctor’s response to Elizabeth’s surprise that he wasn’t in Salem sets the tone for the next part of the scene. His attempts at reconciliation are less vivid than his clear impatience with her over her failure to control Mary Warren, and his statements about the farm like a continent are now an almost aggressive forced bonhomie. This Proctor is — he’s a farmer, he’s practiced, he knows how this interaction is supposed to go and on some level he expects nothing different. The Proctors seem much more “married” in the modern sense than they have on previous nights. He know what’s going to happen and he’s tired of it. Proctor tries to push back through the wall between them. Still, the practiced impatience means the audience knows tonight to laugh about the rabbit and its well-seasoned quality. Even so, tonight Proctor is not really listening to Elizabeth in the way that he was on the nights when he was more placating. He doesn’t really hear her protests and so she seems to get more sympathy from the audience, which laughs at some of her lines, identifying more, perhaps, with the beleaguered wife, tonight, when the husband is less of a long-suffering hero. His delivery is quicker and angrier, as he gets to the lines about how he confessed and thought she was G-d.

John Proctor (Richard Armitage) explains how candlesticks affect him at prayer.

John Proctor (Richard Armitage) explains how candlesticks affect him at prayer.

When Mary comes home from Salem, again we see the clenching hand before the threatened whipping, this time with the tension working its way clearly up into his forearms. But it seems Armitage thinks the scene is too one-noted? In any case, he backs off into quietness after Hale’s entry; this chunk of it is more subdued than I have seen before. He’s quiet when he talks about how the golden candlesticks affect his desire to commune. The audience is more live — has Armitage noticed this? — and we even laugh at Elizabeth when she points out that he can’t name “adultery” as the last commandment. He’s not having it, though, and he pushes the audience past the natural pause at that moment. The scene escalates and he’s rougher, angrier — and I finally buy, maybe because I can see (?) his tears at the table at the end of the scene.

On the whole Armitage’s delivery in Act Two is much smoother, more melodic, more fluid. This Proctor seems more jaded. Near the end of the scene, the bailiff’s spit lands ON HIS FACE and we can see the humiliation and disgust / self-disgust.

At intermission, LondonFriend comes down to chat — she finds the show much lower energy than when she saw it at its opening. LadySquid comes down to chat with friends who are sitting on my other side, and smiles at me but does not blow my cover. I tell LondonFriend I will get in the stagedoor line again. She says she’ll meet me there. She asks me if I want to try to take a photo. I tell her that I don’t, and that I mainly want to watch, but that I want to get to the head of the line.

In Act III, I feel like I have a much clearer view of Proctor than I have ever had. There are moments when I wonder if he’s looking at me or playing to me, but I dismiss the thought. The beginning of the act, as always in this play, has tempo struggles. However, Armitage’s Proctor has carried the humiliation and (self-)abasement of Act Two much more clearly through the break this evening than on prior nights, and Proctor is much more stooped, humble, cognizant of his political position vis-a-vis the court than he has been on previous nights.

Screen shot 2015-03-15 at 10.53.56 PM

John Proctor (Richard Armitage) brings Mary Warren (Natalie Gavin) before the court, in Act Three of The Crucible.

Is it this lowering that energizes the Danforth / Proctor exchanges so much on this evening? By the end of their interchange they are in a real screaming match for the first time, and the height of the exchange, over Proctor’s lechery, moves toward a better emphasis on ruining his name, as opposed to his wife knowing Abby for a whore. Proctor’s exchange with Mary Warren is more vivid, and by the end, he has crumpled more convincingly. It seems, overall, as if Armitage has decided to inhabit the outlier margins of the emotions that he has given Proctor tonight, rather than their more conventional centers, and the effect on the other actors has been interesting to watch.

Tonight Act Four is the best I’ve seen in this production although the tempo loss is still unavoidable. The fifth time in a row, I can’t help but think how poorly written the fourth act is; the scene with Tituba in the jail gets us absolutely nothing dramatically and it’s not the actors’ fault — there is just nothing there that contributes the dramatic arc around morality that Miller wants us to accept. That said, Armitage has ended Act Three in the lowest point I’ve seen so far and he is much nearer tears and suddenly much hoarser as well. Tonight, when Proctor tells Elizabeth “tears please them,” he sounds closer to tears himself than he ever has, so that the line is almost a self-accusation. It’s hard to say exactly what makes the final act better tonight, but perhaps because there is less unprompted screaming. The lines that Proctor delivers about G-d seeing everything are better when they are quieter. We also see a fuller rotation of Proctor’s body; Armitage is using his space on the stage much more effectively. Because he’s not always using the most extreme range of anger, his “my name” speech reaches pure, choked, unvarnished fury.

Proctor’s eyes when he looks at Elizabeth during the kiss.

A standing ovation. Armitage is looking attentively at something in my direction, but I think he’s looking over my head.


[On the next morning, I will write: All in all, last night seemed like a performance in which Armitage had abandoned a number of strictures operating on him during earlier evenings. As a result I saw much more of the sort of gestural canon that was typical of his earlier characterizations — Thornton’s chin motions and stance; Lucas North’s hand to face moves in anguish; Guy’s insolent stare. I’m not sure how to feel about it, because it seems to be this was one of the better performances I’ve seen, with Armitage perhaps slightly less in control of his fury, less in control in general. So much of Armitage’s performance style does involve “performing for” — a way of exhibiting his body that was more evident last night than it often is. Whose pleasure is it? His pleasure in acting? Ours in watching? Does he laugh inside as he notices us, watching him? It seemed so often that he was enjoying inhabiting his body last night. He was proud, when Proctor could be.]


to part three of Friday

~ by Servetus on March 16, 2015.

2 Responses to “Friday, August 29th: Armitage blurs, part 2”

  1. […] To part two of Friday. […]


  2. […] Continued from here. […]


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