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 The Theatreguide.London Review


A View From The Bridge
Duke of York's Theatre Spring 2009

Until now, I had never ranked A View From The Bridge particularly highly among Arthur Miller's plays. It tries too hard for poetry and tragedy, and neither is Miller's strong point. But, as this revival directed by Lindsay Posner reminds us, it is also anchored in solid working-class American reality and truthful psychology, and those are Miller's special forte.

If, like me, you've had doubts about the play, this production will remind you what a powerful dramatist Arthur Miller can be.

The play is about Eddie Carbone, a Brooklyn dockworker who has raised his niece with an Italian-American's love and over-protectiveness that border on the pathological. When the family takes in two cousins smuggled illegally into the country, and one begins a romance with the girl, Eddie's jealousy - which he cannot acknowledge - drives him to violate one of the community's greatest taboos, destroying himself.

The play's greatest flaw is Miller's need to dress this small and powerful story in the mantle of classical tragedy, with a one-man Chorus in the form of a local lawyer repeatedly invoking Fate and Destiny. And indeed that character remains the weakest element, despite the earnest efforts of actor Allan Corduner to make lines like 'It was only a passion, that had moved into his body like a stranger.' work in a realistic setting and a Brooklyn accent.

But Lindsay Posner and his cast wisely play down that aspect of Miller's vision and concentrate on the small but deeply moving story of a little man driven by forces within that he cannot understand, and would be unable to admit to if he did see them.

And here all praise must go to Ken Stott.

From the minute Stott walks onstage he carries a reality with him, allowing us to relax and know that no clumsy poetry is going to break the spell. His Eddie Carbone is a man of good heart, limited intelligence and absolutely no self-knowledge. Life makes sense to him as long as nothing in it violates his understanding.

But the minute something unforeseen happens, like his niece falling in love, the facts have to be rearranged to fit his preconceptions. The immigrant can't be a nice boy; he must be conning her, and he's probably not a real man.

Ken Stott repeatedly shows us Eddie's mind working harder than it's ever had to, as each new twist has to be forced into his world view and the ever-more-fragile construct has to be shored up.

This is particularly moving in his scenes with the lawyer, who tries gently to guide him toward acceptance of the changing reality. Perhaps the most difficult thing for any actor is to show nothing happening, but Stott lets us actually watch the lawyer's words not sinking in.

Any man driven past his capability is inherently tragic - this was Arthur Miller's great insight, in Death of a Salesman and in this play. By the time Eddie meets his fate at the end of the play, he has long since won our sympathy and even respect, for trying so hard to do what he was simply unable to do - cope with a reality he could not acknowledge. And by taking us through that journey, Ken Stott may well be giving the performance of his career.

He's not alone onstage, of course. Helping significantly to establish and sustain the sense of solid reality and emotional truth is Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Eddie's wife. Hers is a very unflashy role, and Mastrantonio never tries to steal the spotlight. She's just there, real and solid as the woman with just the slightest bit more awareness and mental capacity than her husband, enough to let her sense what is happening to him without being able to stop it or help him.

Hayley Atwell and Harry Lloyd as the lovers and Gerard Monaco as the boy's brother are also excellent - and when everyone in a cast is good, and everyone is serving the play in the same style, much credit must go to director Lindsay Posner.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - A View from the Bridge - Duke of York's 2009