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.
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!
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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)…
… 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
And look, down there you are Rachel and Michele, on your phones!
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.
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.
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…
… but also Paul Whitehouse, whom I had seen sitting in “Ole & Steen” the day before.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…
… 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.