The Role of a Staircase

Written by: Anne Hawkinson

It’s more than just a staircase, more than a mechanism to get from one level to another. The staircase in Jared’s Parisian apartment is a curvaceous, sensuous journey from one floor to the next. The balusters are swirling filigree topped by a grooved, serpentine handrail. Between flights, an oval paned window illuminates the landing (the perfect place to stop if you want to make an entrance). It’s an important part of the story when it appears, and it’s more than a prop or part of a set. It behaves like an actor in a supporting role.

Suzette and Claire come down the stairs and have a discussion about Claire being too neat and organized, resulting in Suzette having little to do. Claire stops at the bottom and looks back up at Suzette (a stair or two below the landing), informing her she can remake her bed while she’s out. The ecstatic Suzette crosses the landing and hurries up the second flight. The stairs provide an interesting juxtaposition of individuals and status – Claire, superior in status, is at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at her servant. Usually it’s the other way around. But, Suzette is reminding Claire of her role as lady of the house, so perhaps the tables are turned just a bit.

Sawny is missing! As Jamie hurries down the stairs, he asks Claire to have the house searched for the treasured, carved snake made for him by his late brother, Willy. Jamie’s servant waits for him on the landing to help him into his coat. The servant and Jamie continue down the stairs, with Claire at the top watching them. You’d think Jamie was the dominate figure (making requests, servant attending him, etc.), yet he’s physically lower than Claire. Fascinating, what this staircase can do.

As Claire descends the staircase for an evening at Versailles, the hem of that red dress brushes each and every stair. Slowly and deliberately. Her fan glides along the railing. Then she stops at the landing to give Jamie, Murtagh, and us the opportunity to appreciate how gorgeous she looks. The landing’s been transformed into a stage, displaying the anticipation, excitement, and happiness of the moment.

Jamie swats the gawking Murtagh back to reality and informs Claire she’s going to need a bigger fan. Claire scoffs – she helped design the dress, and she’s going to enjoy standing out in a crowd. She takes Jamie’s hand and continues down the stairs, to an evening at Versailles.

The next time we see the staircase, the mood is charged with tension and fear. Beautiful as ever, it transports the heavily pregnant and traumatized Claire. She does not float down the stairs one step at a time, but grasps and clings to the railing for support, cradling her unborn child as she struggles to get to the bottom without falling. The landing is no longer a stage, but more painful distance to cover in her haste to get to the carriage and the woods where Jamie and Jack are participating in an illegal duel. The stairs are reduced to a mechanism to get Claire from point A to point B as soon as possible. Magnus takes her arm and guides her out the door to the waiting carriage while the shadowed staircase stands silent and stoic, awaiting its next role.

As a benchmark, the stairs are a powerful reminder of where we've come from and where we are going.  What are some other important set-pieces you've noticed?

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