me + richard armitage at the theater: more headcanon, anyone?

Sort of like this. Or like this. It will take me a few paragraphs to get there. Start at the prompt for more direct Armitage ruminations.

Last spring, I fell deeply into the rabbit hole of NT Live and Stratford Festival theater transmissions — they are now 200 miles from home round-trip, but going to work already takes me 50 miles in that direction anyway, and I (thought I) had the support of the dadsitter. I saw several things I loved, but I didn’t write about most of them. This was the last one; I also saw Coriolanus, All about Eve, The Tempest, The Lehman Trilogy, and The Audience, and ideally I’d have written at least about Lehman and the Stratford productions.

Fast forward through the summer, and my options became more limited. I learned that the dadsitter was drinking with dad while I was away, and the doctor told us dad needed 24 hour supervision. We introduced the senior helpers into our lives, and dad was resistant. So although I bought two tickets for transmissions earlier this fall (One Man, Two Guv’nors and Midsummer Night’s Dream), I no longer felt comfortable leaving dad alone for more than twelve hours, even with senior helper support, and so I returned them. A month later, with the washing machine drama behind us, however, the GCM pointed out to me that we need to practice separations and following plans for days that deviate from the norm. Although dad’s been beyond prickly about the senior helper, the GCM pointed out that in the spring, if he does not move into assisted living, he’ll have to accommodate to even more of their presence, as I’ll be working five days a week.

So I decided to try to go to a transmission again and last week I saw Hansard via NT Live. It’s ostensibly a play about 1988 (Thatcher’s third term, unemployment, coal miners, AIDS, Section 28), viewed through the conflicted private lives of a Tory MP and his more liberal wife. (I also felt it was as much about Brexit as about 1988). The play has one act, is only 90 minutes long and has very little plot. The MP (Alex Jennings) returns to his cottage in the Cotswolds for a weekend during which we learn that his wife (Lindsay Duncan) tried to reach him that week on an important day, couldn’t, and concluded that he was having an affair. From there, they tear at (the remains of) their marriage like vultures clawing the meat from a corpse. By the middle of the play, it seems as if there will be nothing left. It’s been compared to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and that’s not far-fetched. As the manner in which the plot moves to the play’s end is apparently controversial, I’ll end the plot summary there. The consensus of the reviews seems to be: excellent performances (both the actors are Olivier winners), mediocre but promising play by a debut playwright.

Armitage ruminations

Richard Armitage (backstage somewhere?), Marie Claire, 2005.

What I thought of the play made me wonder again what Armitage is like as a theatergoer. And what it would be like to go to the theater with him. And what he really likes in plays. He’s said something about plays he’d like to do (Macbeth, Oedipus, Coriolanus, Pinter), and he’s expressed enjoyment over a few plays over the years (the main one I remember is the Mike Bartlett play, Wild, but there have been others). He seems to appreciate Mamet.

I concluded that he might not have liked this play much — mainly because of the script. Armitage, like many actors, has regularly praised “truthfulness” (it’s not quite fair to equate this idea with “truth” but I won’t get into the philosophical dimensions). Although the conflict at the heart of the play was probably real for many couples of the 80s, this play doesn’t have much to do with how real people talk or conduct their conversations, let alone their relationships. The script was very taut and said a lot, but more in the style of a Platonic dialogue than an account of an argument between marital partners or lovers — most of whom probably couldn’t maintain such a cutting debate for an hour and a half without a break of some kind. (On that level: kudos to Jennings and Duncan as this play must be simply exhausting to perform.) And most people who are emotionally involved in an argument just aren’t this articulate (not even upper-class Brits); most people who are really angry are left speechless at times, grasping for words or drowning in their rage at what’s being said to them. So the very sophistication of the script contributed to the feeling of irreality in the characters’ speech and emotions. Seen from the standpoint of classical dialogue, it was also clear who was winning this argument; the script tries to make the MP and his positions sympathetic, but not, in my opinion, with very much success. What I do think the script did extremely well, however, was to weave the political positions of the couple into a meta-discussion of their relationship and particularly the question of how they had come to terms with the path and events of their family life. They had a son together and 1988 was the year of Act 28, a measure supported by the Conservative government at the time. Most of the reviewers seemed to feel this problem was not set up very well by the script, but I thought it was obvious and interesting, and I admired the artistry of the script (even if I can imagine that it wouldn’t be easily accessible or attractive to the average critic).

I tend to think about Armitage as preferring plays that are either more openly visceral — The Crucible — or with epic themesOedipus. Vanya speaks both to his appreciation of modernism (Bulgakov), his love for mood (the whole question about method acting that he dances around all the time), and perhaps to an appreciation for the openly, emotionally philosophical. I suspect — despite the fact that this play to some extent deals with the failure of the characters to confront their feelings — that Armitage would see this play as somewhat too heavily cerebral. This play tells us a lot but it doesn’t show us much, and given Armitage’s interest in the movement of characters, I suspect he would have found it unsatisfying. I wonder, though, what he thinks about Act 28, and how the play handled that theme. He would have turned seventeen in 1988.

So many questions. There are other details in my Armitage theatre-going headcanon. I’m guessing he’d try to get his tickets comped if he knew anyone in the production and that sitting in the best seats is not particularly important to him. I’m guessing he maybe has a glass of sparkling wine in the interval but not an ice cream. I’m guessing he prefers to go to the theater alone. I also hypothesize that he would prefer to let the feeling of the play linger than talk about it in a lot of depth, at least in the immediate aftermath of the curtain fall. Maybe he’d want to talk about it more the next day, but I’m guessing that in the short term he would prefer to linger in the feeling.

At the same time, I secretly hope that I’m wrong about that. My wondering about this stuff always comes in the atmosphere of the 100 mi drive I’ve got in front of me when I leave the cinema, in the dark, which I’ve always found especially conducive to fantasy and brainstorming. In the days when I regularly drove 1500 mi I did a lot of that. Now it’s a bit more curtailed. But this spring, I found myself imagining Armitage in the passenger seat and wondering what he’d have thought of the Stratford Coriolanus — I found it a triumph, particularly the bravura performance of André Sills — what would Armitage have thought of Sills? Of the staging, which actively incorporated news broadcasts, the Internet, and text messaging? What would he have thought of the movement strategy in Lehmann? I loved it, even though I didn’t buy Simon Russell Beale as a Jew in the least and enjoyed him somewhat more in the comic phases of the characters he played. Would Armitage have approved of the gender swap in The Tempest? This is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and Prospero is a role I’d wish for Armitage someday, but I felt that some of the cultural and political implications of the play were swept aside by casting a female Prospero.

In any case, I’ll have another opportunity to play this headcanon game again soon. I’ve got a ticket for the NT Live transmission of Present Laughter, and the senior helper is already scheduled.

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~ by Servetus on November 12, 2019.

21 Responses to “me + richard armitage at the theater: more headcanon, anyone?”

  1. I saw a local production of One Man, Two Guvnors recently with a few other ladies and we all disliked it, despite a rave review in our city newspaper. What did you think of the production you saw?

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    • Never mind. Just read more closely and saw that you returned the tickets. Based on my experience I would saw that was a wise choice

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  2. Say, not saw. Obviously I need to get some sleep

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    • Yes — definitely get some sleep. I wasn’t going to get the ticket, but I read a few interviews with James Corden over the summer and thought it might be interesting. Also, at that point these NT Live things were sort of like essential sanity intervals, and i wasn’t too picky about the play. Midsummer Night’s Dream is not my fave, either, unless I’m seeing it in an outdoor production in July. So I was busting *ss to see them. At the moment I really need to be more selective if it’s going to be such a long trip.

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  3. I’ve often wondered about Armitage at the theatre. Does he slip in at the last minute? Where does he sit? What night does he choose? Does he wear a disguise? I seem to remember that he has been spotted at times, so perhaps he mingles with the crowd on the ordinary nights, as it is part of the theatre experience.

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    • He has — I think (per tweets) he was seen 2-3 times in NYC at various shows, and in London at the Harry Potter / Cursed Child production for sure. He’s probably still low profile enough as an artist that he wouldn’t be immediately recognized.

      One of the nights I was at LLL, Michael Moore walked into the theater and it was like a wave went through the room. I personally would find that annoying.

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  4. Oh this is fun! A bit of speculation! I have this idea that he might slip into the back of the theatre, just before the curtain goes up. That way he can both be unnoticed and also be alone with his thoughts and perceptions, not having to worry about not paying any attention to the person beside him while he loses himself in the atmosphere and observation of the actors. Although the need to fade into the background and observe while unobserved might compete with the need to see it up close so that he can immerse himself in the details. Afterwards, he might slip out again. Or if he sees some friends who are actors, or better yet directors, he might really enjoy analysis of what he has just seen.

    I like that backstage picture a lot. The black sweater and blue jeans are a very attractive combination.

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  5. I wonder if he, or every actor, watches and wonders how he would fare in a particular role, would he have wanted it, or whether they are able to distance themselves when they watch? Also, since he still spends time in NY ( recording for Audible if nothing else) he’s likely seen much more theater than he’s tweeted about, so I wonder about that perceived gap.
    NT Live has been one saving grace for culture in English here in my small, expat community in Mexico. One of our regional theaters has had access for a few years, though I am not sure how they make the decisions of what to show. The theater may take into account the characteristics of the population. In the main, they seem to have a lot of problems with British accents. I missed the Corden on purpose, but have All About Eve and All My Sons coming up. Have seen a few of the others you mentioned, including The Tempest. ( We also now have Live From the Met Opera simulcasts once a month)

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    • You gotta thing he must do that — I know when I watch someone else teach, I think about how I would do it.

      I really loved NT Live when it was in the town here. Now they seem to have stopped doing that (except for rare exceptions — e.g., Fleabag is playing here this month as an encore). So I love it somewhat less because of the drive, but it’s still brain candy. It was actually really because of the Crucible that I started bein more interested in going to theater again, but I miss having a group of friends to talk about the plays with.

      So what did you think of the Tempest genderswap?

      I am not a huge fan of opera, but I’ve started going to the Met simulcasts, too. It’s another engagement with art and I know a fair amount about some of the operas (styles and composers) so it keeps the neurons jumping, thinking about them. I know a lot less about the technical level of the singing, though, and every time I go I wish I knew more about that.

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      • I’ve never been an opera fan, and before subtitles, I had to do a lot of researching. I found that if I studied and listened to the opera ahead of time, I enjoyed it more. Going to opera was no part of my upbringing. But once I was grown, and with the Met and City Opera available, plus friends who were into it and bought the tickets, I managed 1 or 2 a season. Now, the productions are so extensive, I’m enjoying them, and as you pointed out, where there isn’t much to choose from, it’s another activity, injection of some higher culture that I miss terribly. It’s an event. I’m debating whether to see the Philip Glass one – I don’t like him, but the preview and interviews peaked my interest, so I think I’m going to try and get a ticket. These are in one of our movie theaters – one theater with Span subs and the other two with English, and they have been mobbed. It seems like everyone I know attends. The movie theater, or perhaps the Opera Guild that sponsors it, even hired an outfit to set up a coffee/wine bar in the lobby with all sorts of cold and hot drinks. It was a very nice touch. ( Though I don’t feel the same way about the people who took popcorn, nachos and hot dogs in from the regular concession stand. ) People even got a tiny bit dressed up – some people. Maybe a livelier, better put together outfit than capri pants and a T shirt or Mexican style blouse.
        I had no issue with the gender swapping in The Tempest, though I don’t always feel that way about gender swapping. I thought Helen Mirrin was wonderful. I wish digital theater also did the same thing. Here, they are also getting Boradway.com, and I am afraid with so few dates for them to show theater, that the powers that be will load us up on musical/blockbusters and leave out the good stuff.

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        • I started learning about opera before I understood any of the languages involved and that was what they told us to do — read a synopsis, learn something about the composer and style, etc. I still find it’s more enjoyable in languages I understand well (English, German) than those I understand a little or not much of (French / Italian), even with subtitles. I got an Akhnaten ticket for the same reason as you — the previews were interesting and it’s a culture bomb. In a way I wish I knew some of the other people who attend them here, because I’m starting to recognize them. I agree popcorn doesn’t really fulfill the tone but I sometimes buy it anyway.

          I kind of felt like the postcolonial issues in the play were different with Prospero as a man as opposed to a woman. I wish I could make that more precise now but it’s been months unfortunately. We had Broadway.com stuff here, too, for about a year. It was all musicals. A lot of it shows up on PBS on Great Performances a bit later.

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      • I feel the same way every time I watch a lawyer in action, unless it’s a criminal case.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I enjoyed an encore showing of 42nd Street ( filmed live at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane London) last evening it was very good and brought back memories from thirty years ago.
    I have a 42 nd Street programme from the Playhouse Edinburgh from January 1991 when RA was in the ensemble, I wonder if he ever goes to see a musical these days.

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  7. I think he’d like to go with someone. I don’t know why, but he’s always struck me as someone who doesn’t like to go at it alone. I know the perception from the red carpet and traveling is he’s alone but I always wonder…..

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  8. Fun head-canon to play! I think I may have to go down that rabbit hole myself sometime. 🙂

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    • Thinking more about it, I wonder about what it’s like as a professional, evaluating professional performances, to go with a novice? Or maybe he mainly goes along with other actors and creatives?

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