[spoilers!] The Crucible: Richard Armitage fans get a new kiss
[IF YOU HAVE TICKETS, PLEASE SKIP THIS POST AND PRESERVE THE NOVELTY AND SUSPENSE OF THE STAGING FOR YOURSELF — come back to talk when you’ve seen it. The defining quality of this production is that it is always surprising, and never quite the same. Slight changes were made to it as late as last week according to one audience member I talked to. And you will see something different every time you see it, from every position you see it in, and depending on the mood that whips up between the actors in the round. So this post gets the spoilers tag not because we don’t know how The Crucible ends, but rather for those who have yet to see the play. It’s mostly intended as documentation of what I saw and an opportunity, if people want, to comment on what they saw, because someone who sat next to me told that it’s changed substantially from when she saw it in previews.
Oh — and most of these posts will assume you’re familiar with the plot and dialogue in the play. I’m not quoting exactly here because I’ve already packed my copy of the play but I will do so in future.]
[Not the scene I’m actually talking about, unfortunately. Right: Richard Armitage as John Proctor and Anna Madeley as Elizabeth Proctor in Act Two of The Crucible, Old Vic, June 26, 2014. Source: Geraint Lewis Collection.]
So — yes. What a kiss. I’m starting here not out of prurience so much as having read repeated requests from fans for someone who’s seen the play to describe the kiss in detail.
I’d like to insert a passage from one of the reviews of the play that discussed the significance of this kiss, but I am not finding it at the moment and I’m in a rush (feel free to remind me where it is if you know, off hand). The gist of the quote was that the kiss is the sign of Proctor’s reconciliation with Elizabeth (Anna Madeley), the proof that his adultery with Abigail is long behind him and that they both understand this. The review also points out that the kiss is very emotional and convincing.
It comes in the play right after Proctor’s declared, forcefully, his name, and torn up his (feigned) confession. His pending execution at the hands of the authorities is reaffirmed.
The kiss begins with an embrace. Elizabeth begins to cry (after having been mostly tearless throughout all of Act Four), and Proctor admonishes her not to cry, with the text that tears pleasure them. He asks her to show them a stony heart and honor.
What I saw: Proctor faces toward backstage (where people are seated, b/c of the round staging); Elizabeth faces toward the main part of the audience. Proctor embraces Elizabeth, who slides down his body to her knees, so that her head is more or less against his chest. He loosens her head covering, and begins the line about tears pleasing the authorities — and Armitage’s delivery alone is worth remarking here because it’s a tone that’s kind of unique in my experience of his voicings. Sort of gentle, taunting, demonstrative — his words are for Elizabeth but his tone is for the witnesses. He loosens her head covering, and strokes her hair, and his fingers become tangled in it. As he admonishes her to honor, now, his voice becomes even gentler.
Once the lines are finished, Proctor lifts Elizabeth up above him — starting from grabbing her hips or perhaps her rib cage, I believe, in a sort of joyful swing that makes you think of a husband who’s coming home after a long absence and wants to toss his woman up in the air. She looks down at him happily. How long this lasts and how high the toss goes depends — for instance, on the second show on a matinee day, he does the lift but his arms shake a bit (which works perfectly with the way Proctor looks at that point — after imprisonment and torture, he looks awful, covered with blood, in tattered clothing, greyed hair, grimy eyes — much worse than this photo indicates). He doesn’t always do the whole lift. When he does the lift, he also turns Elizabeth around so that the whole audience gets a panorama of the kiss (although you may be so unlucky as to have it blocked by one of the other actors in the scene — the only occasional annoyance of the “in the round” staging).
But the kiss begins with Elizabeth looking down at him happily, and him looking up to her. They kiss — and atypically for Armitage it’s a firm, hungry, open-mouthed kiss (not tentative a la North & South, nor closemouthed a la Spooks) — it’s the kiss of a man in love, who’s just gotten home for a long journey, who means to make love gently soon but it is ready for plenty of kissing ahead of time. His eyes are closed, but he looks suddenly so much younger (this is definitely the kiss of a young man in love) and ridiculously happy to be kissing. Depending on how it’s going, it’s one long kiss or broken up into three episodes, and it works as a great contrast, because of his refused attempt to kiss Elizabeth in Act Two. Eventually he’s holding her in his arms with her feet still off the ground, and tangling his hands in her hair (they show up really well against it because of the blood and white makeup contrast against her hair). Gradually he sets her on the ground, and either nuzzles her, or brings his forehead up against hers, or (best of all in my opinion, though I only saw this once) does that quintessentially male and so ridiculously romantic thing of looking hungrily at her lips and holding his face up against hers but waiting for her to kiss him.
The kiss continues until the jailer begins to take Rebecca Nurse (Ann Firbank) away. By this time Proctor and Elizabeth are back in starting position with regard to backstage, and Proctor’s not so much kissing her as holding his face very close to hers. Rebecca stumbles, and Proctor breaks away from Elizabeth to the side to help Rebecca stand again. Then the jailer begins to draw Proctor away from Elizabeth, toward the rear stage exit and his execution, but Proctor and Elizabeth maintain eye contact, their glances locked on each other, until Proctor disappears from view. This iron glance between them is underlined by Armitage’s eye makeup, which makes his sclera look even whiter and his glance more penetrating.
What’s great about this kiss: open-mouthed and adult; not pornographic quality but extremely romantic and also arousing to watch; the obvious delight with which Proctor is kissing his wife — it’s as if Proctor finally gets the affection that he’s always felt for his wife returned. Bonus points for the strong lift and also the tangling of his hands in Elizabeth’s hair.