Richard Armitage as Kenneth: First response, 11/3 #LLLPlay
[Personal diary excerpt, after the play and some drinks, 11/3 evening performance of Love, Love, Love, with Richard Armitage as Kenneth. This is mostly a transcription with corrections for punctuation, syntax, etc., with a few expansions based on recollections of the evening, especially toward the end. This post will be followed by a detailed description of the play, and then comments and notes on the moods and courses of the individual performances I saw, the way I did for The Crucible.]
I’ve put on my theater black. I’m sitting in the first row of the mezzanine. It’s undeniable: I am breathing faster than normal. My senses are heightened. The lady next to me is singing along with the music. I’m sitting up straight; I’m ready to receive whatever you are offering.
First: you are lithe. Pliable. Putty. I never thought I’d believe you’re nineteen, but it works, this odd contrast between large, flexible, slender you and short, stolid Alex Hurt as your older brother. You enter stage right, you peek forward, you bounce toward alcohol, toward kitchen, toward television, toward cigarettes. You lift your legs and bend your knees, your sneaking ostentatious, you want us to notice you not being seen, you cock your head and listen, you sit in one chair, another, you rearrange yourself to look alert. But your alertness, too, is parody. You make Kenneth into desire, you are consciousness of transgression, you are pleasure, you are trifling languor, indolent, inspired lethargy, you want to break free but with plenty of whiskey and not much force — the bonds of obligation and society should break as easily as Kenneth undoes his robe, a move more defiant than principled. When you crouch on the floor to bemoan your parents’ concern for you, when you pout to force Henry to let you stay, you are all little brother — I have a little brother, too, the way you jib and jab with your voice and the position of your head until Henry’s had enough, the tricksiness, the way you twist your body and your lips around the words Kenneth produces, this is familiar and endearing and infuriating and it’s striking, I find, how so much energy goes into the production of such a lazy tease.
The soles of your feet are dirty. The pad of your big toe. I believe you are a child. I’ve never seen you this childish.
You with such large eyes, your expressions are visible even from this balcony, the adolescence of your face is striking, between goofy smiles and calculation, between a dazed response to the charms of a bird and an ridiculous, spontaneous looking grin. You fling your bangs around artfully as any girl, you know how to half close your eyes if you want to seduce, your bliss when the girl falls into your arms seems real. And yet you are so ridiculously young, your voice pitched higher (closer to your normal range), your consonants fuzzier, your face rounder, almost unformed (do they do that with makeup?). You disclaim poof status but you aspire to debauchery, faintly, only if it won’t take you more work than the absorption you put into rolling that joint. Your sorrow over the betrayal that seems like an extension of the shared skin Sandra sells you is as unfixed as your energy, only desire can win, you’ll go with this girl, you’ll do what she says, I would put my money on you for the night, not for the decade.
Second: You have your shoes on, your feet on the floor, you are — resigned to determination? My high school choir teacher wore shoes like that, you’re cuter than he was, still, Richard Armitage, I’ve lost track of you behind Kenneth. Now you dance a complicated pas de deux, you time glasses of wine, you and Sandra conduct a complicated minuet of admissions and denials, charges forward and tactical retreats from the sofa, you push your children at each other, you slash and pull back, your cigarettes could be swords. Sandra has hers out first, you take yours out late.
You are mystifyingly hilarious (which I say to you at the stage door) from the minute you charge into the room behind your own pointing finger.
Before you walked lightly, you bounded, now you almost stomp, there is a responsible adult male walk and you are willed to walk it, a struggling paterfamilias who hides his inability to provide emotionally behind his bluffness. You are not ready to be done with your coolness. You cannot remember the details. You want to love without commitment while trapped, marooned in it, you still struggle with the attention that you know you need to marshal. Somehow you bury a small bit of anguish for Kenneth’s own abandonment in all of this, but the way you mobilize the pictures he has of his children — this alternately amuses and chills me, I know, too, how this is, to be seen only as the picture that a father has of me, I have not understood till now how this is put together, how the body reflects physically a desire to drown out the real, you teach me how it works with a certain kind of stentorian voice and the pattern of looking regularly in just the other direction from the one you should be looking and an ostentatious asking-but-not-listening.
Second, then, you are hilarious but it is not funny, I laugh freely but my own laughter somehow brews a betrayal. You smoke in every direction, rings, clouds, smoke-signaling your messages, you refuse to admit you are wounding when you are only following. You are still the little brother who needs orders. Now with better vocabulary, more experience. You hyperextend your knees and lock them, too powerful to fall over. You make me cackle with a sour mouth.
Third: you are shameless. Not unkind, but still self-unconscious. I believe you least physically as a retiree, except, perhaps, in your labored offering of a first glass of wine to Sandra, in a way I’ve seen on UK tv, but still emotionally I buy from you that Kenneth has learned to play the game. Kenneth, now with money and his own capacity to manipulate, proud of what he created and what he is not proud of, he ignores. There is regret but he has forgotten the past and is not much worried. No more school fees to pay. No more incredulous looks. You cock your chin, you extend your jaw. Desire is more brittle now, it is not dazed but directed.
When I see you from closer in this act, later, I will see that at the end of the play, as you dance with Sandra, you mouth the words to the song against her hair, not really into her ear. You do not communicate, you announce and you know you can. You are not pitiless but your sorrow is all for yourself, you cling to your brother’s urn, you refuse accusations, you want it all smooth. You are the least active here but finally something that hints of real emotion spreads across your face even as you replace it with the pictures in your mind. You are aimless until you formulate another goal of squandering.
This act is painful to watch (this time around) and I do not laugh much. I do not laugh at the lines I think Bartlett thinks are funny.
Third, then, you are blind, a man willfully without indemnities.
When the curtain goes up you are smiling and you are still “on” and the main thing I think as I descend the stairs is that I have not seen this before, you so funny and yet playing such a bitter role, that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you play a role so lighthearted but with bitter undercoat, that there’s nothing here to cling to. I could at least be angry at John Proctor, but I can’t be even angry at Kenneth, you make him into a creature of these absurd moments that we can laugh at because they are mostly forgotten — until we can’t laugh because it is too real, the meaningless itself starts to wound.
Something about the way you play this character is so hard to chart, I could write everything that you do down and not grasp it even then. The performance is as ephemeral as the time we spend watching it — you make a Kenneth and light a cigarette, you smoke it down and discard it, like the play, a throwaway hour that will never return and is hard to recall even in memory.