New Experimental Drama Takes West End by Storm – “The Stage Door”

Review: “The Stage Door”

New Experimental Drama Takes West End by Storm

by Guylty Pleasure

Experimental drama has the habit of being, well, experimental. It is hard to tell nowadays where reality starts and fiction begins. A new experimental drama that is mid-way through its eleven week-run in London’s West End is braving new ways in bringing the reality of modern life to the audience. Never-seen-before stage management, audience involvement and improvisation methods are making this innovative new work the must-see performance of the season. And best of all – it’s unticketed and free in.

The Stage Door

Devised and staged by impressive director/writer/lead actor Richard Armitage, the play opens to a street scene on a balmy summer evening in central London. The seemingly calm and peaceful scene is cosily illuminated by street lights, accentuated with the warm glow of the orange “stage door” orb. Sparsely furnished with the occasional car and a few lonely signposts, the set however displays a staggering level of detail, allowing the audience to feel immediately at ease with the familiar setting. It is on this set that the audience assembles in a single-file, carefully co-directed by That-polite-Security-Guard under detailed instruction from director Armitage.

With the audience in place, Armitage allows the atmosphere to settle before the action starts rolling. And this is where the experimental spectacle starts. Unbeknownst to the audience, the assembled spectators become part of the play, jostling for a place in the line, conducting hushed conversations, swapping the occasional giggle, adjusting bra straps and waistbands, and holding pens and posters at the ready. Armitage allows the tension to rise until almost palpably at breaking point, and finally enters the stage himself.

In a remarkably choreographed movement of grace and speed the lead actor works his way along the lined-up audience. His journey is the reward, both for him, but mainly for the audience, as he twists and turns in a stunning improvisation from one spectator to the next. Outmaneuvering any requests for conversation, Armitage launches into a mantra-like, Beckett-esque monologue. “Thank you. Thank you. Aw, thank you for coming. Thank you. Yes, of course. That’s so kind of you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for coming.” The result is a mind-blowing, awe-inspiring blur of pale skin and dark beard, overlayed with the soothing baritone hum of his calming voice that leaves the audience speechless and incapable of anything but compliance.

Involving the audience in the drama of the action is a stroke of genius by the 42-year-old actor. Known for the meticulous preparation of his roles, the Hobbit star has researched his subject in-depth and portrays his character as a public figure conscious of the cult of celebrity. Bowed down in humility, the modest character accepts the ovations of the audience with grace and a modicum of embarrassment, acknowledging the power of female mass adoration but politely refusing to reap the rewards of his celebrity. The towering presence of a burly security guard on the stage is the obvious reminder that the fourth wall is only breached on the celebrity’s terms, and can be re-sealed at any moment.

Thorin anointed 2All too soon the spectacle is over. The twenty-minute-play relies heavily on the cooperation of the audience, and kudos to Armitage for braving and sharing the unpredictability of improvisation as well as reacting with wit and aplomb to the occasionally rowdy crowd. On the night the reviewer attended the performance, a fellow attendee veered off the unwritten script and demanded the signing of a plastic puppet instead of the customary books, photos or posters. Armitage elegantly interrupted his monologue with an unrehearsed but smoothly inserted “You want that signed?” and continued the performance unfazed. It speaks for Armitage’s impeccable professionalism that he signed his customary “RA” without the slightest quiver and launched back into his monologue with hardly a twitch of his impeccably coiffed eyebrows.

No doubt the close-contact performance takes guts, sweat and tears, and the audience rewarded the inspiring writer/actor/director appropriately with spontaneous standing ovations on the pavement. (Only cynics would claim that the audience was already standing, anyway.) If you are a socially aware theatre-lover, this is the must-see event of the season for the scenes of spontaneous fangirl heart-break, the searing commentary on 21st century cult of celebrity and an up-to-date look at current menswear fashion.

“The Stage Door” opened outside the Old Vic Theatre, London, on the 21st of June 2014 and runs until September 13th, 2014. This is an unticketed, free event. The play is rated PG 13 (Parents strongly cautioned – some material may be inappropriate for children under 13). Observers welcome, participants are advised to bring writing material and/or camera as only autograph and photo requests will elicit reactive involvement in the performance of Mr Armitage.

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116 thoughts on “New Experimental Drama Takes West End by Storm – “The Stage Door”

  1. Pingback: The Crucible stage door with Guylty and Pop Thorin! | Me + Richard Armitage

  2. Who knew our man, well known as the ultimate researcher and backstory writer, could excel at improv? Is there no end to the talent of this revered and talented actor? (rhetorical question)

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  3. AS USUAL,GOOD.STORY.MY POP THORIN ARRIVED LAST WEEK.HE DOESN’T LIKE HALLMARK THORIN OR BRIDGE DIRECT THORIN. I HAVE TO SEPARATE THEM…LOL..!!!!!!!!!!! GOING TO SEE INTO THE STORM SATURDAY..YEA,,

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  4. Interessante und amüsante Lösung, Guylty.

    Trotzdem schade, es hätte mich wirklich interessiert. Aber wenn du halt als Geheimniskrämerin in die Fandomgeschichte eingehen willst … *stichel* 😉

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    • Shit, das kommt davon, wenn man anderswo seinen Mund nicht halten kann. Aus meiner Fake-Review kann man ja schon zwischen den Zeilen herauslesen, was Sache war. Aber ok, ich hau irgendwann noch mal ne persönlichere Schilderung raus. Spätestens in vier Wochen 😀 *marketingprostrikesagain*

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          • Nervensäge. 😉

            Ich habe rein- bzw. angesehen, und mir sind ja auch vorher schon Fanvids begegnet. Mich sprechen sie nicht besonders an, und ich werde wohl auch nie ein Fan davon werden. Musik, die mir besonders gefällt, und/oder Bildmaterial, das ich wiedererkenne, verbessert das, aber bisher bin ich noch nicht über etwas gestolpert, das es mir wert gewesen wäre, auch nur den Link zu speichern.

            Ich finde es bewundernswert, was sich manche Leute für Arbeit machen (das gilt auch für Blogger) und wie gut das gemacht sein kann, nur – tja, s.o.

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  5. Igel haben ein Elefantengedächtnis, nur dass du es weißt!

    Nee, im Ernst, wenn du halt wirklich nicht willst, ist das doch okay. Ist halt nur so, dass ich nach unserem “Gespräch” vorhin halt erst recht neugierig war/bin, und dass ich die Chance nun mal eh nicht haben werde, steigert halt die Neugier auch noch mal. – Nur ist es trotzdem deine Entscheidung, und ich werde nicht ernsthaft sticheln.
    Oder höchstens ein gaaaanz klein wenig … 😛

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  6. Ach, soooo ist das! Da möchte jemand gebeten werden!

    Wir wollen Meer!
    Wir wollen Meer!
    Wir wollen Meer!
    Wir wollen Meer!

    Hm. Irgendwas sagt mir, dass ich urlaubsreif wäre …

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  7. Hi guylty,
    jetzt muss ich doch ins Deutsche schwenken. Erstmal vielen Dank für Deinen netten Response zu meiner Anmerkung zu Deinem “well-rounded” Artikel – das ist er im wahrsten Sinne.
    Am Schluss dieses Berichts hatte ich zwei Gedanken: unfair und schade. Schade, weil ich gut verstehen kann, warum Du diesen Bericht so geschrieben hast, und zumindest eine näherungsweise Vermutung (auch aufgrund eigenen Erlebens) bzgl. der Innenwelt habe 🙂 Daher: Schade!
    Unfair, weil die Stimmung des Berichts (zumindest für mich) letztlich ins Zynische kippt (unbeabsichtigt, glaube ich). Unfair, weil seine “Welt” so unberücksichtigt bleibt.
    Sorry, ich weiß, Dein Eindruck und Erleben. Aber vielleicht doch ein kleines P.S. dass es ungewöhnlich ist, nach einem so langen und intensiven Stück überhaupt noch StageDoor zu machen und ihm das von Londoner Theatergehern-und-nicht-RA-Fans großen Respekt eingetragen hat.
    Danke fürs Zuhören/Lesen 🙂

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    • Hi Fufi – danke dass du dir die Mühe machst, auf meinen Witzelei zu antworten. Ich merke schon, dass ich wohl doch noch einmal richtig schreiben muss, mit den persönlichen Eindrücken, die die Stage Door Experience bei mir hinterlassen hat.
      Zynisch sollte meine Witzelei eigentlich nicht rüberkommen. Ich wollte das eigentlich nur ein bisschen überhöhen und zum Ausdruck bringen, dass die Stage Door eben auch nur eine Performance ist. Das meine ich nicht abwertend, sondern bewundere es genau wie du, dass RA sich Abend für Abend die Mühe macht, seine Fans zu treffen, obwohl er vermutlich totmüde und erschossen ist. Wenn Zynik mit dabei ist, dann eher auf mich selbst gemünzt, und meine eigenen Schwierigkeiten damit, mich als Stage-Door-Mitmacher zu outen.
      Ich habe allergrößten Respekt vor seiner fan-freundlichen Pflichterfüllung, und ich war selber auch überhaupt nicht unglücklich mit dem, was er uns, die da warteten, geschenkt hat, nämlich ein unvergessliches Erlebnis.
      Trotzdem gut, dass du kommentiert hast. Ich hab da was gerade zu rücken. 🙂

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  8. Excellent Guylty! Thank you for sharing the “stage door” experience and so pleased for you that Mr. A signed your PoP Thorin. By your account, I am guessing not many have thought to bring their PoP Thorin to be signed? Or are they not offered mass market in the UK like here in the states? Did they, PoP Thorin and Mr. A try to make a ‘selfie’ of the moment? Not that there would be time for those sort of shenanigans after a serious performance.

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    • I have no idea, Mimi, whether this was a request that he had encountered before. He wasn’t exactly incredulous at the suggestion, but he did make sure to confirm 😀 As to whether they are widely available in Europe – hm, not sure. You see, I was given my Pop Thorin by a kind friend 😀
      And no, no picture evidence of *any* kind. I was decidedly anti-picture that night.
      Hm, I really think that I need to write-up the thing once again from the personal POV. There are far too many things obscured by my attempt at humour…

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      • Far be it from me to reign in your desire to expand on these experiences, but I also meant no criticism in how you reported the ‘Stage Door’ performance. I laughed, sympathised (adjustments… heh) and thoroughly enjoyed your account. Should you desire to present another view, I believe I will not be alone in reading it as soon as you make it available.
        No pressure of course. 😀

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        • This is turning into “Attention-Hog Central” at this stage *ggg*. But well, I think I may have come across as dismissive and cynical, and that is simply not what I meant.

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      • Interesting how an experience like this would make one self conscience of appearance and (or if) a strap was not in place correctly. On the other hand, I see so many people, of both sexes, who do not care how they appear or smell in public. I have wondered, just for my own amusement to poll general audiences (not that I will) how many people find it acceptable to go out in public (excluding emergencies of course) in their PJs or slippers, or just out of bed without any attempt to present themselves in a clean, tidy manner. But I digress. It is refreshing and humorous and repeatedly enjoyable, to read your account. Thank you again.

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  9. Belly hurts from laughter 🙂 Thank you,Guylty! ( I stopped reading and I laughed with my head on the desk for good five minutes at the point of “adjusting bra straps”A hahaha! classic!)
    Bless you! 😀

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    • 😀 Yup, I am all for exposing my own little quirks for the greater amusement of my fellows. Mind you – I wasn’t even wearing trousers that night… No waistband to adjust.

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  10. Such a good idea. To describe the Stage Door like this ! But you always have good ideas. I agree with Joanna “adjusting bra straps” and hair too. That’s what I have done. LOL.
    And now that Pop Thorin is a star, be carefull not to put him “Into the Storm” or the authograph of the Director will be deleted !!! You know, his voice saying “Thank you for coming”, this is something I will remember all my life. Thanks again Guylty for your words, for your blog, for your kindness.

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    • Great to hear the fantasy validated, Katia 🙂
      Pop Thorin may be placed in a glass case from now on. Except for when he travels 🙂
      I have trouble remembering it all clearly. Typical sign of having been in it too much…

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  11. Hi guylty, sorry, ich schon wieder 😉 Ich glaub, ich muss erstmal was gerade rücken 🙂 Ich fand Deinen Bericht auch witzig (und gut beobachtet 😉 und habe sicher überempfindlich reagiert. Liegt auch an den Tweets von “Fans”, die sich darüber beschweren, dass er “noch nicht mal” Fortsetzung jedweder Auswahl (lächelt, umarmt, posier, ….) Ich hatte nicht den Eindruck, dass Du die gleichen “Beschwerden” hast. (Außerdem habe ich schon genügend Deiner Posts gelesen, um zu wissen, dass Du mit dieser Gruppierung namens fucking-fan-entitlement wirklich nichts zu tun hast!) Aber ließ es doch bitte morgen nochmal in Ruhe durch, ob es nicht als “Beweisstück A” verwendet werden kann. Ta und Danke 🙂

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    • Huhu Fufi, ich find’s schön, dass wir uns über den Ton sachlich unterhalten können, deshalb bist du jederzeit willkommen, dazu etwas zu äußern :-). Ich kann auch gut verstehen, dass meine Interpretation der Stage Door, so emotional die Teilnahme daran nämlich für die Fans ist, schnell persönlich genommen werden kann. Überempfindlich würde ich dich nicht nennen. Du hast ja Recht damit, dass es durchaus nicht selbstverständlich ist, dass ein bekannter Schauspieler wie RA so etwas überhaupt jeden Abend macht. Und ja, du hast mich erkannt, ich glaube nicht, dass die Fans irgendwelche Ansprüche geltend machen können. Die hatte ich selber an dem Abend auch nicht, allein schon, weil ich nach dem Red Carpet in Berlin bereits eine Ahnung davon hatte, wie es bei dem Zusammentreffen von Star und Fans so abläuft. Jedenfalls hat mich der Austausch mit dir doch noch davon überzeugt, dass ein etwas persönlicherer Bericht aus klarer Ich-Perspektive noch nötig ist, in dem ich ehrlich, aber nicht ironisch schreiben will. Ta zurück 🙂

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  12. This really made me laugh! You captured the spirit of “The Stage Door” experience so well. I only hope that a lot of the people who have been to see The Crucible, were there primarily to see the play and not only to meet Richard afterwards. Personally, as you know from my own review of the play, it is his performance that has been cemented on my memory and not so much the actual meeting him. Having said that, meeting him afterwards was without a doubt the icing on the cake, and what a cake that was.LOL

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    • Oh, I think there is no doubt that most people want to see him *act*, not *interact*. It’s a magnificent performance, and the stage door is nothing but a bonus. In my mind is connected with the play that I had seen before, but let me tell you one thing: If the play had disappointed me, or if RA had not been up to scratch in it, I would *not* have attended the stage door.
      He’s a cake alright. Or a nice sweet muffin 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Wow!! This is AWE. SOME!!! So meticulously detailed and delightfully written!!! I particularly enjoy reading the lines that script writer Armitage has finally settled upon for the current polished version of this drama!!

    I was involved in a much earlier “brainstorming and development workshop” of this production… long before it had been perfected into this 20 minute choreography of simultaneous signing, posing, bending, smiling, into-the-crowd mosh pit crowd surfing, Beckett-esque lines repeating tour-de-force!!

    Those were early days of a far more trepid pace as Armitage Director and Armitage Writer were still battling over how to create the most ‘efficient power packed punch of post theatre experience’ for Armitage Actor to perform!! Poor Armitage Writer, back then, we dragged those workshops in all sorts of irrelevant conversation directions like ‘hey I like those boots, are they the same ones from the production?’ 😉

    Thank you so much for sharing your insight and creativity with all of us!! I really, really loved this review.

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    • LOL, Expat. And I love your response. Brainstorming and development workshop”. Fantastic. It must have been fabulous being so closely involved in the creative work of the man!!! 😀
      BTW, have you written about your stage door experience anywhere? Would love to read!

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  15. Fantastic review of this epic drama…oder so.

    Danke, gibt gut wieder, wie ich es in Erinnerung habe, nur auf sehr viel elegantere Art und Weise…habe Deinen anderen Stagedoorpost noch nicht gelesen, meine aber zwischen den Zeilen hier das zu lesen, was ich auch dachte 😉 (war lustigerweise genau einen Tag vor Dir dort :D)…

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    • 😀 Klasse, ich bin immer wieder beruhigt, wenn andere Well-wisher meinen Eindruck bestätigen können. Falls du die andere Stage Door Version noch liest, könnte das da doch noch etwas positiver rüberkommen. Ich war bei diesem Beitrag hier in Witzlaune. Basiert aber alles auf wahren Begebenheiten 🙂
      Und ist ja cool, dass du fast zur gleichen Zeit da warst.
      Was mir bisher noch keiner bestätigen konnte ist, wie viele Herrschaften da so an der Stage Door standen. Ist sehr schwer einzuschätzen. Hast du eine Ahnung, Serpentina?

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  16. Hey Wonderful Guylty! Just re-read this again and have to say, you are anything but cynical or dismissive. It is delightful and puts a smile on my face. Thank you again for sharing. 😀

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    • A bit cheeky, maybe, but yes, I hoped to entertain with this, not to snark. (Although I like a good snark :-D) Oh, and I can admit now that I also wanted to avoid writing a more personal account of the whole experience. Well, *that* plan didn’t last long 😀

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