“You love me yet!”: Richard Armitage and the extreme intimacy of Yael Farber’s in the round staging in The Crucible

Screen shot 2014-07-02 at 3.17.04 AMAbigail Williams (Samantha Colley) tells John Proctor (Richard Armitage) that he still loves her, in Act One of The Crucible. Source: AP

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The photo above captures the moment I’m describing, but keep in mind that the photographer is practically standing over the actors. The best view of this scene is from the position where the red seat is visible and to that chair’s own left (where I was seated on Thursday and Friday evening, practically in a straight line from Armitage’s right shoulder). As an audience member, one can glimpse this view from the left side of the stalls (from the right side of them, Armitage’s back is to the viewer). One can also see his face from the rear of the stage, and more or less this profile shot from the other side of the stage (stage right), but both of those views are relatively far away.

From my notes, Thursday, August 28th:

“This perspective offers the viewer a better sense of the ongoing problem that Abigail presents for Proctor. Emotionally, it’s clear that Proctor’s finished with Abby (and he communicates well that his involvement was always a superficial one), but tonight, in contrast to earlier nights, remnants of temptation seem to tinge his responses to her. Proctor insists vociferously on his version of his adultery, in which they “did not touch” — a statement that Armitage makes plausibly “true for Proctor” in his delivery, but which makes Abigail, grasping at him and causing him to have to detach her from him. Just as in previous performances, the end point of that long, episodic chase around the stage from its center, to the chairs at the right, to the table in front of the rear seats, where his physical posture suggests rape or a violent entry from the rear as much as it does rejection, to him scraping her off like a barnacle as she grasps, desperately, effectively, hopelessly, at his moving thighs, is this chair in front of the C18 seat I have tonight.

And now I see something I haven’t seen before. It is not as he has said before — Proctor is still tempted. Abigail kneels before him to deliver her lines, about how Proctor has enlightened her about the pretense of life in Salem, and proclaims, “You loved me, John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you love me yet!” The hierarchy of postures here — Proctor sitting, Abigail kneeling — is suggestive all on its own, without any elaboration. But they take it further. Both actors suddenly make this a more sexually laden moment than I’ve noticed from my perspective before, with Abigail grasping at the outsides of Proctor’s thighs and then stroking at the tops of them more gently, moving closer to the space between his legs — and Proctor simultaneously withdrawing, raising his head and lowering his chin to indicate resistance, and then rocking back on the chair in which he is trapped by Abigail’s advances Across his face, I see a number of expressions pass — his eyes widen, he lifts his chin, he tries to plaster himself back against the chair — and then in a split second, Abigail is truly between his legs, looking up at him, and he looks down at her — and his wide eyes, at first frightened, narrow just for a three heartbeats into a moment of unbridled lust — long enough for him to realize it and her to see it. Masterful, Armitage — for Proctor then reacts to his own reaction, returning to fear, and then disgust with himself, and then a shake of the head, just before Betty (Marama Corlett) begins to shake on the bed in renewed expression of her bewitchment. It’s almost as if Proctor and Abigail’s all-too-brief sexual energy broadcasts itself across the room, and Betty responds in sympathetic vibration — ending that intimate moment.

This is amazing and beautiful and I see it from the perspective of about eighteen inches away. (Question: How can they possibly do this? How can they act with all of us this close?) I feel like I am practically the third party in their encounter, and though watching Proctor wash in previous performances has not left me feeling uncomfortably voyeur-like, these seconds certainly do. I am aroused and horrified, all at once. This experience is unforgettable — to have sat this closely to Armitage while he makes Proctor lust, and then hate himself — but I wonder who else saw it. Me and five other audience members?

This staging is so intimate — and yet so fragmented. Everyone who sees it will have seen something different.”

~ by Servetus on September 4, 2014.

16 Responses to ““You love me yet!”: Richard Armitage and the extreme intimacy of Yael Farber’s in the round staging in The Crucible”

  1. Your post takes me back to my front row seat two weeks ago … I saw his lust, his diligence to shake it off. But it is amazing how accurate you are able to describe these scenes! Chapeau and thanks!

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    • to me, this looked really different from the 180 opposite perspective, two days later — but of course I was watching it on a different day.

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  2. I often wonder how much are we attributing to him and how much is just chance. do they experiment with things like this (showing that split second of lust) consciously, together, or do they play off each other as it’s happening? or does he become the character so completely in those moments that he’s not even aware of what he’s doing? it’s in instances like this that it would be so fascinating to me to hear about his process, the things he weighs in deciding how to portray a character.

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    • My impression from watching the play is that they have a certain number of things available to them, some of which they choose consciously in preparation, others of which result from their reactions to each other in the scenes, and that on the level of volition, no, in that split second they are not consciously choosing (but that they have already on some level chosen at least what the potential palette might be, in that they’ve been rehearsing the possibilities for a long time).

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      • I’m not a regular theatre-goer myself, so I’ve not witnessed a lot of these concepts first hand; I appreciate the insight. I’m really enjoying these detailed posts about The Crucible play itself, how you’re elaborating on the different relationships with all the various details. acting fascinates me 🙂

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  3. There must be subtle distinctions between single performances. If the character is still on his way, as he said, the final embodiment is yet to come… I am also very interested to hear more about this development!

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  4. I meant to say this when you first started posting your reactions, but I’m so glad you could go, and could go multiple times, and have the . . . I don’t know, the analytical skill-set, maybe? to do these write-ups. I’ve enjoyed all of the fan reviews and experiences I’ve read, but yours are so detailed and you remember and comment on just precisely the things that resonate with me. Thank you for sharing these with us.

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    • Thanks, that’s very kind! I’m just writing about the things that interested me most, but I tend to have fairly exact questions in mind when I am watching things. That was especially the case on this trip, I have four pages of things I want to remind myself to look out for that I wrote on the plane …

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  5. I know you’re writing these more for your own benefit than ours, but I too wanted to thank you for the wonderful insight and detail. I would so love to have experienced the play and this helps me feel that I have in a way. (A little surreptitious filming would have been even better, but I’ll take what I can get. 😉 )

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    • Thanks! Don’t think I didn’t think about it! But it’s not really my style … and I can’t iamgine what they’d do to someone they discovered doing that.

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  6. I see some of what you said in that photo and the reality is that no he doesn’t love her but he lusts for her yet. It is wonderful I think for those of you who have seen the play to really “see” all of this so detailed .

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  7. […] shift from where I sat before, in the front. I will have this seat the next evening, as well. I will now be inches from Proctor’s and Abigail’s final close-quarters confrontation in … and literally right across the table from Proctor’s stew-seasoning moment. And that means I […]

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  8. […] This perspective offers the viewer a better sense of the ongoing problem that Abigail presents for P… […]

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  9. […] she traps him up against a chair, stage left, almost where they started their dance — where this scene and interaction occur, and the shame that he has signaled a few moments earlier is now writ large as a forced recognition […]

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  10. […] leave and he’s alone with his paramour. His interaction with Abigail is angrier, faster, and the moment of disgust in self-recognition that was so pronounced last night is nearly gone. Proctor seems more closed-off, stony. As he and Abigail do their circular dance around the stage, […]

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  11. […] Colley. Oh, yeah, and I discussed his use of microexpressions in the play, too. Then there was this post about the significance of the staging in the round for what the viewer sees. Some discussion of John Proctor as […]

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