Fangirling Armitage at the theatre

Finally, I’m getting around to actually posting a little more about seeing Uncle Vanya in London last week. I’ve been writing this for the past 5 days or so, just never get around to actually finishing it, it’s just been too busy. But here it now finally is. This also ties in nicely with Herba’s and Pö’s ‘Mach was’ challenge as this time it’s all about doing something with theatre!

A few months ago in an interview Richard Armitage said: “I understand that people aren’t here to see their favourite actor doing something” but I am here to inform the world that the man is thoroughly mistaken. I specifically went to London to actually see him do something (yes, “mach was”!), namely to see him perform in Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Twice. I had originally bought tickets for only one performance but then a few weeks ago decided to buy a second ticket for a second evening as well. I was planning on going with Suzy but alas she had to cancel last minute due to a shelter dog arriving into her care. Yes, she is that kind of woman: putting a shelter animal above Richard. Suzy rocks! Her ticket for Monday evening, February 24th, went to our sweet friend Hariclea, who lives and works in London.

As Hari had to work late that Monday evening, we agreed to meet up in a sandwich place called “Ole & Steen” right near the Harold Pinter Theatre, an ideal place to get something quick to eat before the play started. I walked by the theatre and checked out the billboards…

… before going into “Ole & Steen”. I walked in and immediately saw the face of an actor I recognized, although I couldn’t for the life of me remember from what show or movie. I didn’t remember his name but I’m pretty good with faces and I just knew it was… well… that guy. I bought myself a cup of tea and went upstairs to drink it, sitting at a table facing the door, so I could watch out for Hari. I gave in to temptation and attempted a picture of that actor from above (he was sitting right below me with company that had arrived just after I had). Later, on the underground, I recognized him on posters for Only Fools & Horses, which was playing in another nearby theatre. His name is Paul Whitehouse.

Then, just before Hari walked in, I saw Rosalind Eleazar walk in as well! I only knew her from publicity stills for Uncle Vanya but I just knew it was her.

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Anyway, Hari arrived and we ate some delicious toasties before making our way to the theatre. We bought a booklet and poster and then headed for our seats on row D, seats 19 & 20. That was the 4th row and so close to the stage.

The theatre felt intimate and beautiful…

… and when the curtain went up, there was a beautiful set with Richard Armitage in it, as Dr Astrov, just a few meters away from me!

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I could see his every move and every expression and honestly, was so fascinated, with my eyes drawing back to him every time, that I may have missed other nuances in other actor’s performances. Like others have said before me, I remember Chekhov plays as being boring and depressing (I only ever read The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Vanya back in high school and have completely forgotten since what they were about). I didn’t write down any notes after the play, so what I write here, I write from memory at least a week later.

The humour quickly popped up and kept on popping up throughout the play but I wouldn’t call it a funny play. It was tragic, really, especially at the end. I was fixated on Richard during that first viewing, but the stand out performance for me really was Toby Jones. I only know a few actors who can completely disappear into a role. James McAvoy is such an actor and so is Toby Jones. His is very empassioned and from up close you can even see him spit while he makes his empassioned speeches. His Olivier nomination is totally deserved…

Toby Jones UV Olivier nomination

I also very much enjoyed Ciaran Hinds (I would’ve liked to see more of him!) and Rosalind Eleazar (who was better during the second evening I watched this).

I had read some criticism of Aimee Lou Wood as Sonia, but (despite a slightly condescending tone) she had the most heart in this play and I think I could identify with her most.

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The doctor, no matter how handsome and mesmerzing, was quite cruel to her, I thought, by leading her on and then pushing her away. She didn’t have the power to break free from him and stand on her own and she is the definition of self-sacrifice (not in a good way). Yet I still did like her.

Anna Calder-Marshall as Nana is endearing too and she gets to tousle Richard’s hair and stroke his cheek every night!

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Rosalind Eleazar as Yelena even gets to kiss Richard every night in an almost cringe-worthy scene. The kiss is good but Astrov just pushes too much. She’s so bored with her life and too lazy to change anything about it. Dr Astrov doesn’t seem to have much respect for her and yet is attracted to her, because of her outward beauty. We felt there was some chemistry lacking between her and Astrov (he had more chemistry with Sonia, I thought) but that may have been due to the relationship between Astrov and Yelena; they just do not fit.

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The chemistry was very different with Vanya (Toby Jones). He too is obsessed with Yelena and those two really did seem to have a real connection and understanding, more than Yelena has with her own husband, the professor (Ciaran Hinds).

Yet Yelena is a spoiled brat choosing to live with the rich guy even though they don’t seem that suited for each other and Vanya is unable to escape his own bleak situation. That, really, is the whole theme of the play – everyone is stuck in a situation which is far from ideal and yet no one can break away. They have it in them to change if they really want to but they somehow just can’t and are stuck. This little scene was played out right before me while I sat in row D, it felt like I could almost touch the actors, I loved it.

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Dr. Astrov is also a very frustrating character, losing his will to help people, stuck in an impossible admiration for a woman not really that worthy and blind to someone who could be worthy. He is almost at his best when he is being passionate about the woods and yes, that drunken scene with Peter Wight really was very funny. As with every funny moment in this piece, however, there is always an underlying feeling of tragedy.

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At the end of the play, despite Sonia’s message of hope, a sense of uselessness remains – useless because everyone stays stuck and no one ever takes the power to make a change. There is hope for change but it doesn’t happen yet. I liked that this Uncle Vanya gave me a new view on the story and made me think that maybe Chekhov isn’t as boring as I remembered after all! The feeling that has stayed with me most since I saw it, is that this really was a quality staging of the play, I really enjoyed it, the performances were great, but it didn’t blow me away like The Crucible had at the time or even Jane Eyre.

There was a standing ovation (the following is not my picture but pretty much what the curtain call looked like)…

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… and Hari and I made our way to that stage door where we waited for Richard and the other actors to appear. We were joined by Cindy, a very nice lady Hari had met in New York when she was there to see Love, Love, Love.

Hari offered to take some pictures as she didn’t have anything she wanted to have signed. I already shared those pictures here. Before even the first actor came out, we were told by the security guard that Richard would not be posing for selfies, that he would only be signing things. Ciaran was the first one out and when he said something he was so soft-spoken and gentle. He gave off a beautiful vibe and felt so different from his big presence on stage! I complimented him on his performance and he signed my poster. There was a little more said, but I can’t remember what, it did include an exchange of smiles.

Richard was out next, he swiftly walked to the end of the line and worked his way up, signing up a storm. I swear, that man is quick, there hardly is any time to exchange many comments. He too has a very different presence than his on stage presence. He seems almost huddled, ducking a bit with his baseball cap on, and seems slighter in stature than when you see him on stage and screen. It’s not the first time I have noticed that but it still surprises me every time I see him. He is smiley and grateful even though he does seem determined to get it over with as soon as possible. I thanked Richard for the performance, said I had enjoyed it, but by the time I had finished saying that he was already starting to sign the next person’s programme. He did turn back to me, looked me straight in the eye, smiled and thanked me, so that was a teeny, tiny heartstopping moment.

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Here are a few pictures I hadn’t shared before. Just as Richard was finishing, Anna Calder-Marshall came out and started signing her autographs.

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Richard was gone after what seemed like a flash, Anna Calder-Marshall took a little more time and was a little more chatty. Very sweet.

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While we were waiting I caught sight of the blue hair of fellow fan Sahra who wasn’t that far off from us and who had said on Twitter she’d be there.

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I went up to her, also met her husband, and we had lovely brief chat. I then needed to get back to Hari and Cindy again as more actors came out, so we lost sight of each other. It was a lovely brief encounter, though.

Toby Jones came and was happy to sign and pose for selfies as well. My selfie with him is in the other post, won’t share it again here as I do quite I hate how I looked there, but here’s another picture Hari took of Toby with my phone:

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He’s lovely and has such a jolly face. I think he took it all in with amusement and was pleased with all the kind words he received.

Rosalind Eleazar and Peter Wight also came by and they signed my poster too. The end result is the signatures covering each other on my poster as there weren’t too many lighter spots on the image where signatures could be put with dark pens. Note to self: next time also have a silver or white pen handy!

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As Hari and I walked to Piccadilly Circus underground station we chatted more about the play. Hari was mentioning how we really liked Rosalind Eleazar but noted that she lacked some chemistry with Richard. Right at that very moment, next to the entrance to the underground, we actually walked by Rosalind Eleazar herself! Had she heard us? We weren’t exactly whispering and when we noticed we both smacked our hands over our mouths. We walked down the stairs and then burst out laughing. We hoped that if she had overheard us, she had hopefully also overheard the praise.

The second viewing of Uncle Vanya happened on Tuesday evening, the 25th. Before going to the theatre again, I met up with some new fans, people I only ‘knew’ online. Michele from The M Files blog and Rachel had booked a restaurant for us not far from the theatre. Squirrel, who comments on my blog, was also part of the party and after I arrived we were also joined by Armidreamer. All of them such lovely and generous women. Michele, Squirrel and Armidreamer even came bearing gifts! I’m such a bad person, I didn’t even think to do that… Thank you again, ladies!

After getting to know each other a little and chatting about Richard and eating we made our way to the theatre (minus Armidreamer, who was going to go on another night). My seat this time was up in the royal circle in the first row. Apparently it was a restricted view seat (due to a railing) but really, there was no restriction there that was bothersome at all.

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And look, down there you are Rachel and Michele, on your phones!

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I was glad I went to see the play for a second time. The first evening my focus had been on Richard so much that I felt I may have missed things. The second evening, with a more birdseye view, I was into the whole story and the other characters more as well. Again another great performance and maybe because I had a better overview I enjoyed the story more too the second time around.

After the curtain call I made my way downstairs and to the side exit where I found that Michele and Rachel were already standing there, right at the exit of the stage door. They sure had made it out quickly. Squirrel joined us not long after. I posted pictures of the second stage door night here. We had the same info from the security guard who told us again that Richard wouldn’t do any selfies, just autographs. We were able to chat with that security guy a bit while waiting for actors to appear, he was really nice. A big guy with a calming demeanor. I had also warned the ladies at dinner to not expect too much interaction, that Richard goes by in a flash. I was not wrong.

Anna Calder-Marshall was the first one out this time around.

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And Richard followed soon after, again making a beeline for the end of the row first and travelling back to the door. Here are some more pictures I hadn’t posted before.

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Rachel and Michele offered Richard a gift bag which he thanked Michele for as he swiftly moved on. He went by so quickly, I don’t think she even noticed him saying thank you! Again I offered a compliment while this time he signed my programme booklet and received a quick smile in return. We were standing next to another long time fan, Jan Black, whom we had started chatting to (I felt a little famous when she said she recognized me from my blog!). Look, Jan, there you are in the corner of the last pic above. 🙂

When Rosalind Eleazar came out I mentioned just having seen her in David Copperfield at the cinema and she grinned and said that that certainly was lighter fare than Uncle Vanya. Luckily she didn’t seem to have recognized me from the evening before and the unfortunate remarks she may or may not have overheard. Speaking of Copperfield: not only Rosalind was in that…

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… but also Paul Whitehouse, whom I had seen sitting in “Ole & Steen” the day before.

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Anyway, back to the stage door. Here’s another picture Squirrel took of Rachel, Michele and I with the lovely Toby Jones. Just look at his jolly face, I love it. He signed my programme booklet and when I asked him for a picture with all of us, he took his time to pose. Very sweet.

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We also asked the same of Ciaran Hinds and he also very willingly posed with us. Squirrel didn’t want to be in the pictures and was a little nervous about getting the shot. He was so sweet, told her to not worry, he’d wait for her to get it. She also had a little exchange in French with Ciaran, who is fluid in French (we later found out he apparently lives in Paris part of the time and has a French wife). Squirrel took the pictures, we thought, but I didn’t think to check my phone and later back at my brother’s house noticed that something must have malfunctioned, there was no group picture with Ciaran after all. Never mind, I have lovely memories nonetheless and am really chuffed I got to meet my Captain Wentworth! This reminds me that I actually told him that I have enjoyed watching him since Captain Wenworth and he smiled, seemd pleased and said that was quite a while ago.

Ciaran was the very last one out (“my goodness are you all still waiting for me?” he asked) and while we waited for him opposite the stage door, I caught another quick last glimpse of Richard inside. Just a blur in his dark jacket, but an extra glimpse of him nonetheless. We halfheartedly said in the general direction of the stage door “Look back at me!” but alas, that did not happen.

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I left the stage door with a nicely signed programme book and big smiles on my face. The actors really don’t have to do this stage door thing but it is really lovely when they do do it.

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The next day my plans for the day fell through so I met up again for lunch with the 3 ladies. We had lovely pie in a pub…

… and walked to Covent Garden. On the way there we saw a shop sign that made us think of Richard Armitage: bearded man with blue eyes and bare-chested…

… and a t-shirt we thought could be fun for him…

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Not long after I made my way back to my brother’s house to collect my things and then on to the airport, where I caught an early evening flight home again.

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I left London with lovely memories of meeting some very nice ladies and with new Richard Armitage, but also Ciaran Hinds and Toby Jones, memories made.

This past week the news came that Uncle Vanya has been nominated for 4 Olivier awards…

… and I have to say I especially agree with the Toby Jones and set design nominations. Fingers crossed! Although, in the acting department I am torn between Toby and James McAvoy as Cyrano de Bergerac.

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Either will be a great win.

And now, it’s time to do something else with my afternoon off (compensating for working extra on Wednesday). Tea is finished…

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… and Mr Esther (who has the day off as always on Fridays) and I are picking up our mini me daughter soon from school and heading off to Ikea.

Of nursing, couches and theatre

Work has been crazy busy this week and then on my day off on Wednesday I accompanied my daughter to a nursing college she had applied to so she could take an entry test there (she really wants to be a paramedic one day). The test was an aptitude and character test, to see if she would potentially be up to it, and in the afternoon we heard she had done brilliantly and that yes, they would love do admit her. Pending her passing her finals in June, she’ll start nursing school next September. Baby girl is growing up!

Mr Esther had taken the day off as well, because on Wednesday our new couch arrived. Our old one was worn out, holes popping up everywhere from the fabric getting thin and the seating was getting hard and uncomfortable. You can see the fray on the side of the couch Mr Esther is sitting on, and that long piece of fabric behind my daughter on the other couch is covering up holes.

In January we went couch shopping and found an L-shaped one we really liked. It was quite huge, even in the shop, but oh so comfortable! We were doubting in the shop whether to go for it or not, so the seller lowered the price. When we were still in doubt he threw in an armchair for free as well. So, in the end we measured it all up at home and went for it, along with the decision that we will now definitely get rid of our piano (we’d been wanting to do that for a while now). So, the couch came on Wednesday. Yes, the piano is still there, the piano shop I have provisionally sold it to still needs to get back to me on when they’ll come pick it up. So, for now it’s a bit crowded with the new big couch and chair, but it is all oh so comfortable! Takes up some extra space but no regrets, we love it. My daughter even fell asleep in the huge armchair last night. The screws for the chair legs weren’t delivered, so they’ll be coming back with the right screws for the legs soon.

Mr Esther stripped the leather from the old couch for repurposing and the old stripped couches are now gone too. I almost hated going away on Thursday evening to the cinema, I want to live on that couch! Having said that, I did not regret going to the cinema as my friend and I went to see the National Theatre live performance of James McAvoy in Cyrano de Bergerac. We were not disappointed!

The trailer can be seen here and we loved it. The staging was minimalist (with no long prosthetic noses) and unusual with the actors mostly facing the audience when they spoke. A lot of the dialogue was rapped in rhyme and while it was set in the 17th century, the costumes were contemporary. There was a lot of cast on stage at the beginning (I also loved the diversity of the cast), the build up seemed a bit confusing and long, but a little while later it really hit its stride for me. The play worked best in the more intimate scenes with less actors on stage, the intensity then hitting you right in the heart. James McAvoy blew me away, he is such a great actor, totally disappearing into his role. The scene when Roxane tells him of her love for Christian is heartbreaking, the friendly touches she bestows on his arm mean so much more to him than to her; that whole scene moves from secret ecstasy to secret despair and is pure torture. There was another scene where Cyrano has this soliloquy in which he expresses his love for Roxane and that had me riveted. I think out of everything, that will stay with me the longest. I consciously caught myself not wanting to blink during that scene, I didn’t want to miss even a split second. I also really enjoyed Anita-Joy Uwajeh as Roxane.

Yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing this again, just to make sure I catch everything I might not have caught the first time around from the dialogue. My friend was afraid she’d not understand fully as there were so subtitles (her English is alright but not great) but she needn’t have worried. She understood fine and loved this too.

Two weeks ago I had also gone to see the Metropolitan Opera’s staging of Porgy and Bess with my mother in the cinema and had loved that too (despite the sound not being great in the cinema we were at).

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It seems I’m in full on theatre mode these days, with more to come (this time live, in the flesh, and not on a cinema screen) as I fly to London tomorrow to see Richard Armitage in Uncle Vanya. I hope I like it as much as the hype promises… And if not, I can find comfort on my new couch when I return.

Mark Strong!

He just won the Best Actor Olivier award:

Of course, I am sad Richard Armitage didn’t win for The Crucible…. I would have so much loved to see him win…

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But I have got to say, I really really like Mark Strong (see him in the picture with wife Liza Marshall at last year’s Olivier’s):

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A great actor with great charisma, very sexy, and also a voice to die for! I love watching him in action and would have loved to see him in “A View from the Bridge” as well. If it couldn’t be Richard winning I am glad it is him (although I really like James McAvoy too). So, my heartfelt congratulations to Mark Strong!

Benedict Cumberbatch…

…. is absolutely awesome in The Imitation Game! If he wins an Oscar for this role it is totally deserved!

Went to see this film this afternoon with 2 friends of mine and my 13 year old son who is turning into a bit of a Benedict Cumberbatch fan (he’s taken a liking to Sherlock). I have known Benedict Cumberbatch for years now, first saw him about 7 or 8 years ago in a film with James McAvoy (another great actor!) called ‘Starter for 10’ which I really enjoyed. When I first saw him and McAvoy in that film I knew they were both keepers! Excellent actors to look out for. And I was right. 🙂

Cumberbatch to me has a bit of an odd face but an interesting one and the emotions and expressions that flick across his face are amazing. He is excellent as a nerdy character and has a great voice.

Anyway, back to The Imitation Game – it is the incredible story of Alan Turing who cracked the code of the German Enigma machine in World War II. He was a highly intelligent nerdy socially handicapped mathematician who was also gay and was condemned for that. The film really was excellent, it totally lived up to what I hoped it would be. The build up of the story was excellent, it time jumps between the main portion of the story during WWII, Turing’s boyhood and Turing in the 1950s when he is accused of “gross indecency”. The acting was so good, drawing you in from the first scenes, and Benedict Cumberbatch stood out for me. The man is amazing, his face and his body language are so very expressive, he becomes the character so very completely. The secrets he has to keep and live with are extremely difficult to bear and give his life it’s tragedy. I am not a huge Keira Knightley fan but for some reason I like many of the films she is in (she picks well) and she really is very good yet again. Another stand out for me is Mark Strong who proves yet again that he is under-used in movies! Give the man some more leading roles in big productions!

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I need to watch this again, to catch all the nuances and Cumberbatch, although a bit of an odd bloke, deserves every accolade for his portrayal of Alan Turing! Yes, by all means give the man an Oscar! Although, I have to say, I haven’t seen Eddie Redmayne yet in “The Theory of Everything”, which I suspect may be an acting tour-de-force as well…