Richard Armitage On Stage @ 92nd St. Y

RA as Swann

Photo by Chrissy Lampard Special Correspondent for Richard Armitage US

Although I didn’t manage to have a moment with Mr. Armitage after his US stage debut at the 92nd St. Y, I did see him perform in the Pinter/Proust production.

OK, I titled this post as RA on stage, but my first draft was all about the production. So let me start over with RA as focus. I will follow with my thoughts on the production, which you can skip if you’re a big Pinter/Proust fan. <sorry!>

RA as Swann w Odette

Chrissy Lampard’s photo as Special Correspondent for Richard Armitage US

First of all, Richard spent 90% of the time sitting in the back of the stage in dim light. When you see these pretty pictures by Chrissy Lampard think about the fact that what she photographed is about 50% of the times he was actually speaking on stage. He had a few more scenes (most memorably as the male prostitute in the brothel and with an eyepatch at a party!) but they were very very brief. He did stand on a platform stage left for some of the time. He stood very quietly for long periods of time. Otherwise he was pretty much sitting in the dim light in the back of the stage, leafing through his script, or looking at the other actors performing.

So. Although there was very very little of Richard’s voice to listen to (in my opinion, of course!) there were a lot of opportunities to watch him on stage. He has a palpable stage presence. He has a lot of focused energy. Sometimes I felt he could have projected his voice a bit more, but even far back in the theater you could always hear him. That voice!! <sigh>

I thought his best bits were the smaller bits, not Swann. That’s because the main story with Swann, and Marcel, and Odette , and Albertine, and Leah the lesbian actress (played by Annabel Capper) was so uninteresting to me. I would sum it up as lovers accusing each other of infidelity, most of the time with having affairs with lovers of the same sex. Swann, for example, spends a lot of his limited time upset at the fact that his true love had sex with other women. Really?

Still, Richard managed to smoulder and seduce the woman of his choice. And more than half the audience, no doubt. <faints> I am well on record for thinking Mr. Armitage is physically just about perfect. When I saw him at the Hobbit Fan Event, he surprised me by his appearance, looking very withdrawn and almost frail to me. On Thursday, however, he was back to his robust looking self. And he moves absolutely like a dancer. Incredibly graceful. There’s a video clip of the scene where he is seated and follows Odette with his head and moves slowly into getting up and following her in one, long, graceful motion. See the video (by Chrissy Lampard again), here:

Truly graceful. I would love love love to see him in a proper play. If he ever thought he couldn’t be the romantic lead, I think the video clips of him at the 92nd St. Y show conclusively otherwise. That is all.

Now here is the part where I share my probably uninteresting thoughts about the production. I know that I am unexceptionally educated and I warn you not to accept my views as a *real* review of the production. It’s like someone who hates fantasy reviewing The Hobbit movies. You just don’t get it. That’s me in relation to this production.

The stories I’ve read about the production have been very excited about the production itself. As someone who is not a fan of Pinter, and hasn’t actually read Proust, I was less enthusiastic. I will chalk up my feelings about the overall production to my limited intellectual capabilities. I am not an English major, a filmmaker, or connected in any way with the theater. To me, this production was, let me say, strange. OK, I didn’t get it.

Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t find it enjoyable in some parts (aside from RA), the actors were very good, without exception, and their readings of some parts were very funny. Although I’m not intellectual, I’m pretty intelligent, so I can usually understand what the production is trying to say. In this case, though, I really don’t. There was a lot of posing. Slow delivery of lines. The first half was fairly interesting, even to me. The actors were very animated and, although it made no narrative sense, the short scenes were entertaining. Towards the end of the second half, though, I thought I would start screaming. It was incredibly tedious. Marcel and Albertine reiterating a conversation that had already taken place several times. About whether she slept with women. On and on and on about it.

I’m truly truly sorry if I am being unfair. Again, it is so not the fault of the actors, who I thought were terrific. It is the script itself, I think. I did not attend the pre-show talk by the director. Maybe I would have a different opinion if I did. I admit that I put no effort into understanding the play. My interest truly was in seeing Richard Armitage onstage. And I was NOT disappointed in that!!




From New York City. Anglophile, theater-goer, love books, music and LIFE.
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21 Responses to Richard Armitage On Stage @ 92nd St. Y

  1. guylty says:

    Thanks for that, Marie – that was actually really insightful. So Mr A’s role was much smaller than I had assumed?! Nonetheless, it is great to hear some notes on the actual acting (not just the looking-good *hehe*). I suppose none of the RA fans who attended are particularly “objective” reviewers of his performance. (I certainly would attend any of his performances with the preconceived decision to like *everything* I see.) But you have backed up your impression with the clip, and that is convincing.
    As for the play itself – heavy fodder in any circumstance, possibly an acquired taste. Thanks for your frank review!!!

    • Marie Astra says:

      Appreciate it, Guylty. I am a little nervous in criticizing the production! Others are so definite in praising it. Oh well. And, yes, the production was 2.5 hours. RA was in it, oh maybe, 15 minutes total? Not the biggest role.

  2. Perry says:

    I disagree that he was only in it for 15 minutes. I think that’s an exaggeration. But everything else you said, I can understand completely. Even full Pinter plays are difficult. All of Proust is difficult. So, this sort of reading, with no background-and even with background, is not easy to follow and get the full measure of. And there are things that maybe should have been done differently – but I think the director kept it minimal. Frankly, I think the film would have been difficult also. You could read a little more to get a better understanding -but the important thing to understand – you got – RA for 2.5 hours! On the other hand, as you noted, there was enough entertainment so most people could get a laugh and watch a romance.

    • Marie Astra says:

      Totally agree. I admit I did no preparation for seeing this play. About the 15 minutes, though, what would you estimate – actual speaking time. Not just standing on stage. How many lines did he have?

      And, believe me I am NOT discounting the time I got to ogle Mr. A.! I found the first half fine, but I really got antsy in the second half.

      • Perry says:

        I’d have to think about it. Count the scenes. And the standing around listening ( which counts) – after all, don’t forget he was the butler, too. Got to hear announcing the guests. And he was at a party as the German Count. A short scene with Marcel. The scene where he discloses he’s dying and talks about the painting. The first scene with Marcel’s family. When he meets Odette. The scene where he confronts her. The scene I can;t remember with the flower, the scene where he calls Odette from the street,. The scene in the Brothel. The scene as the journalist where he was in the audience. Two repeat monologues.

      • Marie Astra says:

        Right right right. Yes. Those were the scenes. Which in a 2.5 hour production equals maybe 20 minutes? I’m just saying comparatively, that his actual acting time was brief overall. Of course he was on the stage and listening/posing during some of it. I guess I shouldn’t discount the posing. But comparative to say, Annabel Capper, he had much less performance time. Don’t you think?

      • Perry says:

        Annabel was mother in 2 scenes, Lea, the actress in one scene with dialogue one without, one of the four girls with no lines, and some old lady. Oh- and she was the lesbian lover of Ventueil’s daughjter – remember the sex scene. . But I think he had much less than Marcel, obviously, Albertine, Charlus, She was also a silent guest in the background at some of the parties.

      • Marie Astra says:

        Just seemed to me that she was on a lot more. She was good! I’m not complaining.

      • Perry says:

        I know.I think she had background roles. I thought she was very good. I thought the younger actresses were weaker.

      • Marie Astra says:

        Agreed. Also, Marcel had a few weak moments. I was very impressed with AC.

  3. Servetus says:

    I enjoy Proust (though I haven’t even read all of ROTP), but have generally felt Pinter is vastly overrated (and am a little afraid at the moment about what will happen to theather now that everyone’s decided he’s cool again). I think I have more personal affinity to the kinds of themes Proust is interested in, but I had to learn how to appreciate him — all of these artifacts of a lost world are a little like that. One has to be told what to look for / appreciate (hence the talk before the play, I assume); certain kinds of performance conventions are typically in operation — that’s what it looked like from the video clips, anyway, as if this were a rather mannerist performance — and, of course, one can still be left cold even if one knows about the art and its conventions (that is how I feel about Monet, even after reading a lot of scholarship about him, I know why one is supposed to like his work but I don’t). I don’t think it’s a matter of intelligence or not. You may be underinformed but you may also just not care for this. (I think every segment of Armitage fans experiences that sooner or later. Can you imagine how core Strike Back fans might feel about Georgette Heyer audiobooks? It would be an adjustment at any rate.)

    • Marie Astra says:

      Very true. I think it’s important to make it clear where the remarks are coming from – not that my opinions are worthless, but that they come from someone who admittedly is not familiar with the genre. As I said. like someone who does not like fantasy viewing The Hobbit or LOTR. I know folks like that and their views were remarkedly different from mine. For what it’s worth, right! YMMV I have to try Proust. It just never came up for me. I’ve heard of Pinter forever but only saw the play Betrayal and Screenplay – The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

      Of course, you’re right – I’m just not interested in it enough to become educated about the Proust screenplay.

      • Servetus says:

        Interesting that Pinter wrote the French Lieutenant’s Woman screenplay — Fowles is another favorite author of Armitage’s.

  4. armitagebesotted says:

    Marie Astra’s report on RA’s “on” time is accurate, along with her take on the whole play, and no one needs special credentials or adequate “formal education” to assess these things. We’re grown-ups — with more life experience than what Proust had when he wrote. We know what we know, it’s real, and it’s valid.

    Art is supposed to stand by itself. This play didn’t. It was a 2.5-hour snooze fest — disjointed, tedious, boring.

    That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been performed or that I’m sorry I went. Besides being a fabulous fan get-together (always the best payoff), it got me interested in the source material.

    I’m scarfing up Perry’s posts at Armitage Agonistes — being “filled in” after the fact turns out to be a satisfying way to expand the experience. (Keep writing, Perry! Don’t hold back!)

    And I’m wishing someone would make a movie of Pinter’s screenplay. It’s been out there 40 years, and no one has grabbed it? The subject — memory and art — is irresistibly universal, and I don’t buy that it’s unfilmable. Plenty of other cerebral, conceptual subjects have been put on film. With all the techniques film makers have today, somebody can’t figure out how to make a movie about a bunch of disjointed ruminations on memory that add up to art?

    I think Armitage could do it: He’s got one of the best brains in the business; He’s naturally introspective and thoughtful himself (like Proust); He’s already been ruminating on the subject for 17 years, having performed in the 1997 LAMDA student version; He has a dynamo potential collaborator/mentor/Pinter-Proust interpreter in director Di Trevis; He just spent two years watching a master film another “unfilmable” literary adaptation. Over-prepared geek/nerd that we know him to be, I bet he’s also read Proust’s books.

    I propose he cast himself as Swann. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch him direct himself in a movie?

    He steals everything he’s in, and the makers keep being blind-sided. We’ve seen writers re-shape a show around him (Robin Hood), and we’ve seen a major movie director edit a sequel around him (Hobbit II).

    The man needs total control over his material. That’s what I want to see!

    • Servetus says:

      “Art is supposed to stand on its own” — hmm. I think entertainment stands on its own, or put perhaps a bit more subtly, art’s appeal stands on its own to the individual who is observing it, but we also have to acknowledge when we’re not in the original audience for something, and that its appeal to us will be different than it will be to someone who lived in the original time period, who appreciated the conventions and styles of that time without having to be told what they were. Otherwise all art gradually becomes intelligible. And we can, if we will, learn to appreciate art — I didn’t especially like epic blockbuster fantasy movies until recently but learning more about them has enhanced my appreciation for what Jackson’s special effects crew does a great deal. If I hadn’t learned something about Mozart, I wouldn’t have known what makes him sublime. And it works in the other direction, too — I’m glad to know something about why contemporaries considered Monet so shocking, even if I don’t share their experience and actually find him quite boring and repetitive.

    • Marie Astra says:

      Wow. Thanks armitagebesotted! If you want to write a blog post, just let me know – you can use my platform! Me, I’m not sure he’s ready to put together a project like this. But if he wants to take it on, I’ll be there!! 😀 Even though it’s not my thing. I think he’s got lots more to show us as an actor. IMO he hasn’t been give the part to really show that. Thorin is great, but he’s a dwarf. He need as part of a human man to show us what he’s got. Which is A LOT, IMO!!

    • Harold Pinter had a director in mind to do The Proust Screenplay, Joseph Losey, and that choice did not change for years as they had worked together previously, and no other director was ever suggested for the project.

      “Ironically, his devotion to Losey was what doomed the project. The once blacklisted director’s films never did well in America, and he was considered box office poison.”

      Pinter was also against American policies, a view that he included in his Nobel Laureate piece, which probably makes him not so popular in the US and the US entertainment industry.

      And this is just my opinion – but the thing with making a movie about disjointed ruminations on art and memory, based on a screenplay written or adapted from a 3,200 page literary work, can only be bogged down by so many expectations from many different quarters of the industry – entertainment, literary, stage. And the bottom line will always have to be the return on investment. Will it be profitable? Or worse, will it be the biggest bomb ever, dragging with it the names of Pinter and Proust, and whoever decides to star in it.

  5. Hi Marie, In case I never commented on this post, I just had to say thanks – I really enjoyed it! I was just looking again and marvelling at the fact that the camera stayed so steady! (I think I was perched with elbows on knees the entire 1st act so I could see over the person’s head in front of me!) What a great night. Nice to see it again through your eyes.

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