A behind the scenes memory

Image from Silvano Toti Globe Theatre Rome - Instagram
Image from Silvano Toti Globe Theatre Rome – Instagram – click for source

A memory has returned to my mind after reading these days so many articles and posts about theatre. In 1999 a friend of mine asked me to accompany her to visit “an old friend”, in the the dressing room of Teatro Quirino (a few meters away of Fontana di Trevi) in Rome. The old friend was a quite known Italian actor, Kim Rossi Stuart, and he was playing Hamlet. As I was not a very big fan of the actor in question, I went there without suffering any kind of nervous palpitation. I knew of course who he was, I had seen him in tv, but I went there more with the spirit of the explorer and the busybody than that of the fangirl.

Kim Rossi Stuart as Hamlet
Kim Rossi Stuart as Hamlet – click for source

When we arrived to the artist’s door my friend asked the guardian who we wanted to see. We were the only people there, although the play had finished a few minutes ago. The man lifted the telephone ceremoniously and said “Maestro, c’è una signorina ed una amica sua che La vogliono trovare” (Maestro, there are a young lady and a friend who want to see you). Italians are unique in this kind of adulatory, almost-servile way of speaking, as a sign of respect and deference. Once the Cerberus of the Arts told the actor who my friend was, we were granted access. We climbed the stairs, a door was open in a landing and I was able to see the ropes behind the scenes and a couple of firemen. I don’t know if it happens also in other countries, but here the presence of a group of firemen is compulsory in the theatre.  We knocked the door of the dressing room and there he was. He wore a rather worn pink bathrobe, a couple of slippers.  Last time I told a friend this anecdote I was wondering myself how  I was able to keep my countenance and cold blood to see such a beautiful man in that condition without stammering or blushing. I guess that those days I was too busy falling in love with my husband, because I cannot find another logical reason to be in front of this without making myself ridicule.

Kim Rossi Stuart in 2013
Kim Rossi Stuart in 2013 – click for source

But the purpose of this post is not to talk about my supposedly cold blood, but to the immense gift that was for me, the chance to see an actor just undressed of his character. I remember my friend asking him how he felt, and he saying that was very tired, but also satisfied. Indeed he was completely soaked with sweat, literally exhausted, but also happy. He had still a certain kindle in his eyes and the few minutes I was there I had the certainty that I would never forget that experience.

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Sons and Lovers – D.H.Lawrence

She was grieved, and bitterly sorry for the man who was hurt so much. But still, in her heart of hearts, where the love should have burned, there was a blank. Now, when all her woman’s pity was roused to its full extent, when she should have slaved herself to death to nurse him and to save him, when she would have taken the pain herself, if she could, somewhere far away inside her, she felt indifferent to him and to his suffering. It hurt her most of all, the failure to love him, even when he roused her strong emotions.

I am so very proud to be an “old fashioned snob”. Before starting to read “Sons and Lovers” I peeped the reader’s comments in anobii. The first comments, in Italian, insisted on how boring this novel was. I am simply adoring it, I love the psychological research, sometimes I am quite a maniac when I write (when, that’s the question) in trying to explain how the characters feel, and D.H.Lawrence is simply a master in this. But maybe it depends also on how old you are when reading a certain novel, I remember reading “Women in Love” when I was about twenty-five years old and I don’t have a single memory (positive or negative) about it.

All I need in winter is a hot mug of tea and a John Standring

My favourite mug
My favourite mug

As I was realising that I was risking a Lucas North overdose I decided this week to change subject of study in my PhD on RA and mix Lucas with one of the “Johns”. I don’t think that I will be very original with my post, as I assume that this character have been talked, debated and analised so much that what you will read in these lines can’t be considered a novelty (exception made of the autobiographical note at the end of the post on the story of my favourite mug).

Which would be the result of mixing a Lucas North with a John Standring? Maybe a Richard Armitage? I don’t know but, what I am sure is that John S. is another candidate for the podium of preferred chaRActers. I guess that this podium, when I finish my studies in the object of our admiRAtion, will be quite crowded if I go on like this. But… is it possible to resist to John Stranding? No way.

RA TV works watching list
RA TV works watching list

John is completely different to any of Richard’s tv characters that I have seen so far (check the enclosed list); he is the common hero, the good everyday man, the quiet man. He can be considered an ordinary chap, the meek gutless guy, but he is the rough diamond of the story and the bravest of them all. In the triangle formed with Carol and Andrew, he is the only one that doesn’t move elsewhere, but stays, solid like the hills, patient as the landscape. His first heroic gesture is not to leave Carol’s father alone, although he has been fired and has a work elsewhere. The way Richard performs this role is absolutely outstanding; I have used an expression to define his countenance in the scene in which Carol refuses his Christmas’ present: “majestically unmajestical”.

the "majestically unmajestical pose"
the “majestically unmajestical pose”

John can be shy or clumsy, but the main trait of his character is his dignity. Richard transmits this, even when his head is almost buried in his shoulders, when he is not capable even to raise his eyes to talk with Carol, when he blushes and stammers. Richard has been able to summarise John Standring’s character with a single gesture, that awkward and clumsy way of holding Carol’s hands. I wonder if that gripping came in a natural way during shooting or if it was deliberately studied before; I will add it to the list “million-things-to-ask-RA-if-I-had-him-for-myself-a-whole-afternoon”.

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The character of John, during the three chapters, experiences a transformation that goes beyond a simple haircut; nevertheless, we see during the very first apparition of John an advance of how the “new John” will be. When he is bandaging Carol’s burned hand he has for a moment the same fierce expression he will have almost at the end of the series, when Andrew’s father calls asking where his son is. His sixth sense alerts him that Andrew Lawton is a menace for Carol and the sight of her blistered hand awakes his instinct to protect her.

Lawton's alarm on
John Standring’s face when the Lawton’s alarm is on

Therefore, the thing to do if I want to warm my heart in cold winter nights is to switch my laptop on, fill my favourite mug with hot tea (Earl Grey, without sugar nor cream), put my flowerly blanket on my knees and sigh watching John Standring.

Ingredients necessary to warm your heart in a cold winter afternoon
Ingredients necessary to warm your heart in a cold winter afternoon

 

The mug

The other protagonist of this post is my favourite mug. I bought it in London, in a tiny gift shop inside Covent Garden. It was 1998, the year Richard was graduating from LAMDA. I took this picture that afternoon, it was on Saturday and, as you may see, those were the days before low-cost flights. When I returned there last May there was such a crowd in Covent Garden that, seen from St. Paul’s Church portico, it seemed an ant hill.

Covent Garden - London - 1998
Covent Garden – London – 1998

Sixteen years have passed since I took these pictures and, as usually happens when reflecting about my life (I forgot to add the tag “me, myself & I” to this post, I will do it right now), I often wonder if I have lived it well. Few things have changed in it since I was with my very best friend taking a drink in the Embankment; I work in the same place, I have married the man I started to date precisely two days before that trip, I’ve lost a father, I’ve moved twice. Definitively a more ordinary life than that of the young man that graduated from Arts School that year and who maybe was drinking a beer a glass of wine in Covent Garden while I was buying a mug.

Me in 1998. Note: I was 28 and this pic is photoshopped, any similarities with my actual me are merely accidental,
Me in 1998. Note: I was 28 and this pic is photoshopped, any similarities with my actual me are merely accidental,

House of Cards – Season 1

Kevin Spacey as Jack Underwood and Robin Wright as Claire Picture from OST Booklet
Kevin Spacey as Jack Underwood and Robin Wright as Claire
Picture from OST Booklet

I’ve seen a couple of days ago the last chapter of House of Cards first season, and this post is a clumsy attempt to try to express my opinion about this series. It is of course full of spoilers, do not read further if you want to be spoiled. But, as the second season has already been aired in USA I don’t think this post is very much “spoilative”, right?

First of all, I am writing this post relying on memories of a series I have seen, as “in the old good times” just once, when it’s aired. No chance to rewind to see again my favourite scenes, or taking notes in my moleskine. My first impression is: it is undoubtedly one of the best tv series I have ever seen. Frank & Claire Underwood are the Macbeths of the XXIst century. A couple united by a common and only objective, power success. No matter the cost, no matter the victims which are necessary to sacrifice.

The scene which has shocked me the most in all the series is one of Claire in the hospital visiting their old bodyguard, who is dying with cancer. The man, alone with Claire in the room, confesses his love for her and that he wants her to know, before he dies. I would have expected the usual, tv-cliché reaction, Claire kindly replying that she appreciates his feelings, or maybe a sympathetic lie, letting the man hope that should she have known maybe they would have had a chance. Instead of all that Robin Wright delights us with an award-winning performance. She tells the bodyguard why has she chosen Frank from all the men that ever proposed to her, enumerates her husbands virtues and their projects for the future. After that, cold as an ice queen, puts a hand under the man’s blankets and starts caressing his crotch, fixing the man with her glacial glance, saying: “is this what you want?”. The bodyguard, devastated psychologically asks her to go, she takes out the hand from under the blanket, cleans it on the cover and goes.

This is one of the cruellest scenes I have ever seen performed, no need of blood or innards spread in the screen. Claire kills the man’s brains, annhilates him because he has dared to disarrange her tight agenda with a text asking to see her urgently for that last stupid and ridiculous whim of an already dead man. Claire, capable of such a perverted cruelty is, nevertheless, not immune to an sporadic sting of conscience. We don’t see her doubt more than a few minutes before firing almost all her staff but, when a woman reproaches her to make jogging in a cemetery we see how, the day after, when she’s about to enter again the cemetery for her daily run, watches the gate for a moment and turns back.

Should have been Claire Underwood less plausible if played by another actress? Maybe don’t but I am quite sure she would have been different. Robin Wright portrays Claire with an elegance very difficult to achieve by any other of her coworkers.

And now, let’s talk of Frank, the big Master of Puppets, the Black Hand that pulls the strings of Washington’s politics, portrayed by the absolutely magnificent Kevin Spacey. He is one of my favourite actors since I remained thunderstruck back in 1995 with The Usual Suspects, and then L.A. Confidential, American Beauty, K-Pax… The co-principal reason for making a tourist tour near the Old Vic in London was to be able to… make me a picture with him. This is what I think of “make myself a picture with a celebrity”. I have always said that shyness sucks.

Me & Kevin Spacey - Old Vic Theatre May 2014
Me & Kevin Spacey – Old Vic Theatre May 2014

Frank Underwood is an absolute an complete bastard, but, as Kevin himself has said in an interview, the funny thing is that the viewer sympathises with him. He declared, of course, that it was due to the script but allow me to tell you that it is highly due also to him. He managed to made us believe that Verbal Klimt and Kaiser Soze were two different persons throughout The Usual Suspects to realise afterwards that he was CLEARLY telling the audience that he was Kaiser Soze, right? In House of Cards we know he is a bastard but we appreciate the fact that, at least with us, he is no hypocrite and tells us the truth during his monologues talking directly to the eye of the camera. But his acting, as usual, is also made of small, almost imperceptible gestures. As, for instance, during the scene in the forest with Raymond Tusk, pretending to convince the tycoon to candidate himself as Vice President. When Tusk insists in following a certain bird, while Frank is perfectly dressed in one of his perfectly tailored suits, he moves his head slightly and with a small movement of his upper lip he transmits more disgust with his country walk than with any screaming or histrionic movement.

Does Francis Underwood have a conscience? It would seem he doesn’t, we haven’t seen (yet?) the ghost of Congressman Russo appearing in a corner of his basement when he exercises, for the time being he has just lost a few hours of sleep and broken is home-made rowing kit but… due to remorse or to the fact that the President had not offered him yet the VP? I’m tempted to affirm the latter.

House of Cards OST Cover
House of Cards OST Cover

But what says your husband?

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I don’t know how many of you have heard this sentence when someone passes by your computer and comment your wallpaper. I’ve heard it, several times, and this morning about the above. And, everytime I hear it, it gets on my nerves.

I am an admirer of beauty and arts. In my pc at work, before Mr. Armitage, I have had for about six months a picture of the Roman Forum, before that a painting of Caravaggio, and a Bernini sculpture, just to talk of the last ones. But for certain people those images do not sow a kind of doubt about my capacity of marital fidelity. And I wonder… what’s the difference? Which is the Pavlovian reflex that provokes my “living man wallpaper” in them? Chances of ever touching Richard Armitage are unfortunately even more remote than those of touching this sculpture of Antinous.

Antinous as God Bacchus - Vatican Museum
Antinous as God Bacchus – Vatican Museum

I would be able to steal a caress to the marble when the watchman in the Museum is distracted, but my absolute and complete shiness will ever prevent me to be consciously near Richard Armitage. You will never find me in a red carpet or waiting for him outside the stage door (without considering the fact that there is a considerable distance between my door and his nearest stage one).

Distance between doors
Distance between doors

But, nevertheless nor Antinous, Botticelli or Caravaggio have ever inspired conversations like this:

She.- Oh! But who is this gorgeous bearded man?
Me.- An actor, Richard Armitage.
She.- Oh, you always find this kind of beautiful men. He is really handsome indeed! I guess you just have the chance to watch this beauty here at work, you probably won’t have this picture in your computer at home, where your husband might see it.
Me.- Well, I have the same wallpaper in my laptop at home.
She.- And your husband has never said anything about it?
Me.- Should he?

I guess that the heart of the matter lies in the fact that I admire the beauty (but what I like the most in Richard Armitage are his brains = acting skills/intelligence/etc/etc/etc) of a living man, made of flesh and bones, and that this admiration implies looking down the one I share my life with. A reasoning that I find five times more absurd than the distance between the door of my office and that of the Old Vic Theatre.

Old Vic Theatre
Old Vic Theatre. Picture taken during my trip to London last May.

If you are curious to know what my husband says about my new wallpaper the answer is: nothing. Every now and then he makes sarcastic comments about the haircut of a certain actor (he has not found yet a-terrible-physical-defect in Richard to criticise) or refer to a certain character with the sentence “yes, it was played by one of those actors you like” but he has never reproached me over it. Also because it is not something quite advisable to do when he is not the one who scans and cleans the computer we share: should he say something, my gun is full of bullets.

The Ulisses series

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crucible-ulyssesGif3crucible-ulyssesGif2Set of editions of the rehearsal stills of Old Vic Theatre “The Crucible” mixed with several passages of Valerio Massimo Manfredi’s book “Il mio nome è nessuno – Il ritorno”. Another step into my obsession for seeing Richard Armitage playing the role of Ulisses.

PS. Click in the pictures for a full-size HQ view

 

Johns for Richard

The Johns so far
The Johns so far

Following the philosophy of this blog as a public service, I officially inaugurate today a new category of post: “the Johns for Richard”. Given the high percentage of Johns in his career, I will bring to the attention of my readers and of the internet in general, not only another script-idea-for-free, but also another “John” suitable for Richard Armitage according to my tastes. Not all the Johns I find in my readings will be added to this category, as, for instance, John Charles McNulty, protagonist of “The Temporary Gentleman”. McNulty is a red-haired and I’m not for the compulsory dyeing given that I am still shocked by Colin Farrell’s faux-blonde in Alexander. In other cases, let’s say John of Gaunt, our man is still too young for the role (God bless him), but I will come back again to that character in 2024. Therefore, to cut a long story short, here it is my first proposal:

John Chester (in Barnaby Rudge – Charles Dickens)

I am sorry if the first role proposed is a “bad guy”, but, as Richard himself says that he has the face suitable to play the bad guys (another of those adorable lies he likes to tell, as the one that he can’t do voices) here we have the epitome of evil: John Chester is absolutely heartless and wicked. Barnaby Rudge was the first novel of Charles Dickens and, together with “Tale of Two Cities”, the only historical romance. It takes place in London, in 1780, during the so-called Gordon Riots, an anti-catholic revolt lead by Lord George Gordon and that caused 300 dead.

In his first appearance in the novel, the knight John Chester receives with complete indifference and rather annoyed the news that his son Edward has been assaulted by an outlaw and badly hurt. He refers to his offspring as someone with “his head quite empty” and sends away the person who gave him the information with the excuse that his coffee was getting cold and that he detests to drink cold coffee. He then forbids his son to marry with the girl he loves and mislead deliberately the girl and her uncle informing them that Edward is about to marry a rich heiress. When his son, rather than obey his father runs away for the West Indies, he simply shrugs his shoulders.

John Chester succeeds years later to become a member of the parliament, and, thanks to the uproar of the Gordon Riots (kindled also by himself in order to present himself afterwards as a saviour of the law and order) becomes a very important figure in the government, but… as most of the wicked characters in XIXth century novels he faces a destiny equal to his deeds.

Barnaby Rudge is a choral novel, with different stories and sub plots within it, but a good actor can make a terrific work in it even without coping the screen continuously for three hours. As has done John MacKay for the BBC Radio 4 Drama [great, great, great, GREAT! actor], here you have two samples: an example of a typically-Chester sentence, and Chester’s final scene.

 

Recurrent unpleasant dream

It repeats every now and then. I dream that I have not completed my college studies (I guess I carry on a guilty complex for finishing them very late), that I have an exam and that, of course, I have not studied for it. To make the sensation still more irritating the fact that the exam is not in any subject I could apply in a little bit of imagination or readings (history, literature, etc etc) but things as Maths or Physics. Then, when I am about to wake up filled with anguish my head recollects that I have that piece of paper in the wall signed by the dean in the name of King Juan Carlos stating that I already  have a BA. I guess I’m a little bit messed.

Voices without a face

voices list-1
First page of my voices-list memo

One of my 2014 discoveries is BBC Radio Audio Dramas. I enjoy listening to them, they make me company at work or during the boring domestic cleaning. Right now I have five podcasts in my ipod plus “I, Claudius” in Audible format. I am an organised person (while I write this I see clearly as if she was in front of me my mother rolling her eyes) therefore when I have realised that I was losing control of the voices, I arrived to the conclusion that I had to make something to solve the situation. I was not sure if a certain voice appeared in other of my podcasts, and my confusion grew with every new podcast as most of names did not rang a bell at all. Therefore I have made today, at work (I had nothing to do, bloody crisis) a very professional excel file with the name of the actors and actresses, their role and the play, underlining also my favourite voices. There is another column that I have not published, “seen in”, as a friendly reminder that, exception made for the obviously very famous as Derek Jacobi or John Hurt, if I was not able to connect some names with faces was all to blame to my poor memory. These are some faces of my favourite male voices of the plays. Of course, in alphabetical order (thanks to excel “order as” option). And yes, I hear you screaming “you did not know Samuel Barnett before?”. Mea culpa.

Jude Akuwudike_Chaerea
Jude Akuwudike plays Cassius Chaerea in “I, Claudius”
Barnett_Caligula
Samuel Barnett plays Caligula in “I, Claudius”
Sam Dale plays Ulysses in the "Dante's Inferno". Photo by Laurie Asprey
Sam Dale plays Ulysses in the Dante’s Inferno.
Photo by Laurie Asprey

 

Tom Goodman-Hill plays Claudius in "I, Claudius"
Tom Goodman-Hill plays Claudius in “I, Claudius” Screenshot from “Richard II” of “The Hollow Crown”
Matthew Gravelle
Matthew Gravelle plays Wilthsire in “The Beach of Falasa” Screenshot from “Broadchurch”
Paul Hilton
Paul Hilton plays King Claudius in “Hamlet” Photo from Donmar
John McKay plays John Chester in Barnaby Rudge Picture RSC
John McKay plays John Chester in Barnaby Rudge
Picture RSC

 

Zubin Varla plays Herod in "I, Claudius". Source BBC
Zubin Varla plays Herod in “I, Claudius”. Source BBC

My actors/actresses (I know, I have not published any picture of some of the very good and talented actresses who work in these plays, shame on me) list consists on eighty-two different names of which I “new” (or had to but I had forgotten) just fourteen, which makes me reflect on how hard show business world is. Behind a handful of well-known fan-assaulted celebrities there is a legion of talented workers of the scenes who remain unknown to the big public. To all of them I just can say “thank you” followed by an “I’m sorry for not having noticed you before”.

If this is madness, prince, then I must say that there is method in it

 

Tumblrpost_IoAs the subtitle of my blog says, tumblr is great for many things but not for text edition. The comments I have received so far to my above post deserve one of their own.

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The first kind answer comes from richardiana. I’m not quite sure if the impossibility of redemption is a bad piece of news but I agree completely that I am in good company (that is what the ‘method’ of the post title is about).

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microlina replies with a laconic “of course”, as if we are in front of a cogent argument or the gravity law. The inexorable connection between almost everything and “him”. And, talking about facts, here it is the absolute veredict

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of mrsjohnstranding. Indeed I am. As we all are.

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richardcfarmitage replies with that absolutely delicious gif but at the same time makes a couple of questions. First of all: chutney was great. I have spread it on “pecorino romano” cheese and it was a delight for the palate as Richard is for the senses of hearing and sight (unfortunately I will never be able to experience his touch and smell… nor palate… uhm, delicate subject, let’s not go further into this). The second question: you are right, indeed it is not such a bad thing, isn’t it? As we say in Spain, “que me quiten lo bailado”, which translated literally means “try to steal me what I have danced”. I’m not quite sure if it renders the idea in English. It is used to say that things that we have enjoyed in life will always form part of us.

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notallwhowanderarelost (great nickname which reminds me that I must give Tolkien a second chance after more than thirty year) insists, as richardiana does, on the good company. Which indeed it is. I will not say that I agree or like absolutely everything I see or read in tumblr or wordpress but I must THANK, with all my heart, ALL the group of RA army members and well-wishers that I follow for one thing. The fact that the amount of idle gossip that I have read about Richard Armitage during these months equals to… zero. I don’t know if it is something that from a certain point you all have agreed to do or that it is due to your common sense (which is often the less common of senses). I just can say that I am very grateful to you for not having posted absolutely anything of that kind. I don’t care about the private life of the actors and actresses I admire. Their private life is their own and once the cameras are switched off, the red carpet is rolled up, or they walk fifty meters away the artists’ door their life belong exclusively to them. A concept that to me is basic and natural but that unfortunately is not followed by many fans of other actors. That’s why we all are not fans but well-wishers, are we?

Tumblrpost_6th_SisMy friend Sis nails the concept of the post… who cares of confectioned food!