Benedict Cumberbatch in Look Back In Anger, 6 July 2012, The Duke of York’s Theatre, London
Kill me now, and I will die happy, for today I have seen a masterpiece of acting the like of which I may never see again - well, not until the next time I see young Benedict Timothy Carlton in action.
So, being a complete Philistine when it comes to classic literature, drama and art generally, I have never seen or learned anything about Look Back In Anger and - I suspect like a large proportion of the audience, the vast majority of whom were wimmin - had only bought a ticket because the Pretty One was in it. The performance was called The Playwright’s Playwright and, as far as I could work out from the introduction, which I wasn’t really concentrating on because there was a Pretty One on stage, is a series of productions where playwrights whose plays are currently performing have been invited to choose their favourite play/writer and then it’s performed by a bunch of actors. However, it’s done like a table read: the cast only met yesterday afternoon for the first time, had a brief rehearsal and then the five of them sat in chairs in a semi circle on stage and read the entire play from the script. Obviously, being established actors themselves, they must know the play well but I got the impression that none of them have ever actually appeared in it, and certainly nobody lifted their head from the script for long periods of time.
I’m sure that the other four actors are well-known - I certainly recognised at least three of them but couldn’t put a name to any of them. If I wasn’t too lazy, I would look them up ’cause it’s probably on the original email which advertised the tickets. [Edit: they were Matt Ryan, Rebecca Hall, Anna Maxwell Martin and Julian Wadham.] There are only five characters in the play and one of them only appears in one scene, so for the rest of the performance he read the stage directions. Those of you who’ve ever seen Steven Moffat’s famous table reads for either Doctor Who or Sherlock will know the scenario, except this guy didn’t read half as fast as The Moff is known to do. So it would be something like:
Benedict (as Jimmy): (says a line)
Matt (as Cliff): (says a line)
Julian (narrating): “Jimmy angrily throws his newspaper down and gets to his feet.”
Benedict (without getting to his feet): (says the next line)
Get the drift of what we were watching? OK:
So young Mr Pretty has come on stage with the others and is sitting in one of the chairs while Anna stands at the front and does a brief introduction to what it’s all about, and then introduces the playwright who chose this play, who does a brief spiel which I didn’t listen to a word of because all I could do was stare at Ben and think, “You know what? That is one weird-looking bloke.” I dunno what it was but he was looking particularly alien and odd, and I could absolutely understand why many people can’t see the attraction. However, because I am shallow, here’s a description of what he was wearing: blue jeans with turn-ups, black lace-up casual shoes, a plain white T-shirt and a black leather jacket which he removed partway through the first half to the accompaniment of much wibbling in the audience. Or maybe that was just me.
As I said, all five of the actors had their script with them, but while the other four had put theirs into a nice folder so that they could turn the pages easily, our gorgeous one clearly doesn’t like the easy option and had his stapled in the top left-hand corner and simply flipped the pages over as he went through.
So anyway, the playwright goes offstage, Anna sits down in her chair and the ‘narrator’ starts with the stage directions. At the beginning only three of the characters are ‘onstage’ and the two men are reading newspapers. And immediately it’s clear that Ben is just going to be so much more ‘involved’ than any of the others because as soon as the narrator says, “They’re reading newspapers,” Ben lifts his script up in front of his face like it’s a newspaper while Matt just sits there with his script in his lap looking down at it. Of course, the fact that Ben was blocking his face from view did not go down very well with the audience and you could hear the anxious fidgeting until he lowered the script again. Or maybe that was just me.
So Ben says his first line. And Oh My God. So Much Acting. The man is phenomenal. Truly phenomenal. Considering that he was sitting down and reading a script for possibly only the second time, he acted the stuffing out of his role. He was totally amazing, and I genuinely say this not just as a fangirl. The others were good, don’t get me wrong, but Benedict was staggering. He utterly threw himself into it. He was on the move all the time, even just sitting down - the feet were all over the place, his free hand was expressing his feelings all the time, his face ...... excuse me, I need to stop and wibble again for a moment ... He was sensational. He was so into his role that there were times when he would stop for so long that you would swear that he had forgotten his lines, then you’d remember that he was actually looking at the script, so he hadn’t forgotten - he had simply paused for effect because that’s what his character would do while he was thinking. He was an absolute flurry of motion the entire time ... until the narrator gave the stage direction, “Jimmy leaves the room.” And then ...
And then Benedict Just Stopped. He simply Stopped. It was like he had been frozen. He had his head lowered and his eyes on the script and he absolutely ceased all movement. If it had been anyone else in the cast, they would have ceased to be noticeable while the other two characters carried on talking, but my eyes were absolutely fixed on his non-movement. And I doubt it was just me. And the other two just couldn’t get my attention. Oh, I listened to what they were saying but all I could look at was this frozen angel who could do that - just stop like that after so much animation. There just aren’t the words. He is a bloody miracle. He didn’t move a muscle until they all got to the bottom of the page and turned over. Holy shit.
Later on, once his character was back onstage and speaking - and in the middle of a speech - he picked up his bottle of water that he had brought on and took a slug from it, and every woman in the room swallowed with him. Or maybe that was just me. But I don’t think it was.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that he spent a large proportion of the time with his legs akimbo and his groin pointing directly at me. But I was happy about this, and only regretted that I was one row from the back of the stalls and so couldn’t reach out and stroke it. There was also Very Much thigh-rubbing - again, sadly, not by me but by himself ... and Oh Those Fingers. Even from the back of the stalls I could see that it’s absolutely true what someone said on Tumblr yesterday - Ben’s fingers are literally longer than Martin Freeman is tall.
There’s one bit where Jimmy and Cliff are mock-fighting and the stage direction goes something like, “Cliff picks up Jimmy’s foot and playfully drags him along the floor.” And Ben acted being dragged along the floor by one foot - while still firmly sat in his chair. The actor playing Cliff just sat there doing nothing. And later when Jimmy is talking about sitting with his dying father, Ben was actually crying. We know from the The Great Game commentary that Ben can cry on command, but to actually see it in action was awesome, and it was truly heart-breaking to watch him wiping the tears from his face afterwards.
The first half ends with one of the female characters slapping him (narrated, not actually done) and then the last line of that part is the narrator saying something like, “Then she kisses him passionately.” Pause, then he adds, “End of Act II”. Ben and Anna are staring at each other from their respective chairs and everyone in the audience is still holding their breath, then the two of them look away and grin and the audience cracks up laughing, though you can also feel the rising hormones and frustration. Or maybe that was just me.
Then there was one moment in the second half where Benedict got so into the role that he forgot that he wasn’t supposed to get up and started to rise from his chair before forcing himself back down again.
Strangely, but actually not surprisingly knowing this man’s talents, as the second half went on he actually got more and more attractive - and not because I’d got used to how odd he was looking today. Partway through the second half he half-turned towards the two actresses sitting to his right and suddenly he was utterly beautiful again, and I’m sure it was because of how deeply he had got into his role. We all know that Ben looks nothing like Sherlock; Ben had actually become Jimmy, who clearly looks nothing like Benedict.
This man is eventually going to be hailed as one of the greatest actors of all time. I feel so proud that I was there for one of his amazing performances, and only regret that it was a one-off that nobody else will get the benefit of seeing unless he appears in the play proper.
And after the performance, because I was at the back of the stalls, it was easier to leave through the bar rather than go to the main exit. This led to a flight of stairs which led directly to an exit onto the street, which must also be the Stage Door exit. As I pushed the doors open, I was greeted with a large crowd of women all staring anxiously to see who was coming out. And I hope you’ll be proud of me, ’cause I was: two years ago I would have simply ducked my head and slunk out, but thanks to the amazing increase in self-confidence that my LJ friends have helped me develop, I smiled at the group, held my arms out wide and said loudly, “Thank you all for waiting.” Which, now I come to think of it, didn’t get nearly as big a laugh as I might have hoped, but I suspect that most of them were planning to kill me simply because I wasn’t Ben. But it was fun, and I was giggling proudly as I walked away.
OK, everybody. Done ’ere.
Summary: I had a nice afternoon!