Clarissa 4: first impressions

Mostly, I am sad that this is the last episode. I think I have definitely resolved one dilemma that’s been plaguing me, which is whether I’d consume this sort of product if Mr. Armitage were not in it. It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be listening to any of his voice work if it hadn’t been for “North and South,” because “Sylvester” was the first audiobook I ever purchased. I wouldn’t have encountered him in voice work and then gone on to the tv work. Till now I’ve generally preferred to listen to music and not text, unless I am listening to DeutschlandRadio Kultur. But after listening to this series I have no choice but to conclude that Armitage’s Lovelace in this “Clarissa” gets on just fine without his body. I’m just as eager as a listener to anticipate Lovelace’s next entrance with my ears as I am to await Mr. Thornton’s electrifying experience on screen. And I will continue to follow these classic dramas on BBC if they continue to be produced at this quality. This piece in particular was very thought provoking and moving.

Indeed–with regard to a specific example of the “how essential is seeing Armitage’s body to understanding his performances” issue–, I am beginning to think that the reason radio drama is so affecting is precisely that we can’t be distracted by the appearances of the actors, or the visual decisions/mistakes of a visible medium, or even our cultural relationship to those visual elements. Armitage’s Thornton was scripted in a way that challenged him with the problem of how to perform what must be hidden, and he dealt with this via an extremely restrained performance that spoke volumes. He had to say less with his voice because the medium forced us to see him. In contrast, Armitage’s Lovelace can’t be seen; all of Lovelace’s (rather limited seventeenth-century) interiority must thus be on display either via his voice, or via the reaction of other characters to his voice. I think this dynamic is what makes the rape scene at the end of episode 3 so telling. At that point in the narrative we finally see fully exposed the personality strand that draws this particular version of Lovelace together. We might have been deceived into thinking that his pursuit of Clarissa was about status, or self deception, but by the end of episode three it is unavoidable for us to conclude that the topos is one of possession/rapacity. He is not a rapist out of a violent impulse–or love or hate for Clarissa, each of which he feigns with equal fervor–but out of an inexorable insistent on his right to possess. This is played exceptionally well by the pair, as exemplified in the intense but calm, inexorable quality of Armitage’s voice at that point (“mine … all mine”) and Ms. Waites’s resigned pleading, which reaches us as listeners on an entirely different emotional plane. For Clarissa this rape is about the loss of her honor; for Lovelace it is about the imperative to possess. If we had to see this scene, I think, we’d be plagued by the question of the visual interactions of the actors and the always distracting non-question of rape as a sexual, rather than a power, issue.

The possession/rapacity issue returns rather obviously in the script for episode 4, and even as Armitage appears much less than he did in episodes 2 and 3, his different vocal shadings (pleading, choked emotion, decadent calculation, confident masculinity, anguish, death throes) highlight this theme of Lovelace’s imperative to possess, to have won all, even at his own expense, in that they foreground the quiet, aggressive insistence that Clarissa will be his, even in death. There’s a curious parallel here that I can’t actually work out at the moment to the acting style Armitage adopted in “North and South.” That is, in N&S the emotion is underplayed. In “Clarissa” the voices always run the risk of overplaying, but this emotional style makes even clearer when the really evil moments emerge, because evil is quiet. Armitage’s voice is at its flattest, least resonant, least emotional and yet most intense when he repeats his ownership of Clarissa. It’s this very backing off that makes it so convincing. (I may modify this para. when I have a chance to listen to part four again.)

Before I forget: an extremely moving and believable performance from Lisa Hammond as Dorcas.

~ by Servetus on April 4, 2010.

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