The Theatreguide.London Review
From The Bridge
Young Vic Theatre Spring 2014; Wyndham's Theatre Spring 2015
[Reviewed first at the Young Vic - scroll down for a return to the Wyndham's transfer]
Sometimes what sound like bad ideas prove to be brilliant.
Arthur Miller is a realistic playwright whose plays are all bound to a specific time, place and cultural context, and stripping all these things away would seem likely to weaken or warp them.
But director Ivo van Hove actually enriches this play in unexpected and thrilling ways, making this not only one of the finest productions of A View From The Bridge ever, but a complete vindication of one of the playwright's deepest convictions.
Miller repeatedly asserted that the experience of what he called the Common Man could be the material of tragedy, but sometimes the gap between his very earthbound and domestic stories and the tragic weight he wanted them to carry seemed too great, rarely more so than with this particular play.
But by putting it on a bare stage and freeing his actors from having to keep within the bounds of naturalistic playing, van Hove crosses the gap and allows the play's full tragic power to emerge.
A View From The Bridge is the story of Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone, a hard-working slow-thinking man who has raised his niece since she was a child. But now that she is grown up, his Italian father-figure's protectiveness has crossed unconsciously into a darker passion, and the appearance of a suitor for the girl drives him toward something approaching madness.
The boy is one of a pair of illegal immigrants, and informing is an absolute taboo in Eddie's culture, but how far will a jealousy he cannot even acknowledge carry him?
Without the trappings of neighbourhood streets, modest flat and dinner table hampering them, van Hove's actors play the characters and passions purely and directly, and the bare set's hints at both classical Greece and universal Anywhere enhance the sense of high tragedy.
As Eddie, Mark Strong gives a performance of awesome rawness, moving almost as in a nightmare from contentment into the absolute conviction that he is merely doing his duty by protecting his niece, and then into the painful-to-watch confusion when his vision of reality is denied by everyone around him, ultimately breaking his mind and soul.
A particular beneficiary of this production is the narrator figure Alfieri, whose attempts at poetic or tragic language often clash with more realistic stagings. But here Michael Gould can play all the man's human concern while also being more clearly than ever before a Greek Chorus, watching with impotent foreboding as the tragedy unfolds.
Phoebe Fox takes niece Catherine on a rapid journey from childish teenager to assertive young woman, but the primary function of Eddie's wife Beatrice is to help establish the realistic and cultural context and, stripped of that, Nicola Walker is left somewhat adrift.
The same process somewhat reduces the reality of the two immigrants, with Emun Elliott and Luke Norris (the latter sporting a California accent a bit odd for one just off the boat) unable to make much impression.
As with any nontraditional staging, there are moments in this production that might be most intelligible to those who already know the play, most notably a very symbolic sequence near the end.
But any who have ever doubted Arthur Miller's conviction that this play is a tragedy in the classical sense will be excited to see how right the dramatist was.
FEBRUARY 2015: The transfer of the Young Vic's brilliant reinterpretation of Arthur Miller's drama to a West End theatre inevitably alters its effectiveness, but there are positives to balance out the few negatives, and the production remains just as exciting and powerful.
Read my original review for a summary of the play and director Ivo Van Hove's audacious move to free it from the trappings of realistic domestic melodrama and vindicate Miller's faith that there was high tragedy in the family drama of a Brooklyn longshoreman.
Without question the in-the-almost-round staging at the Young Vic created an intimacy and intensity that were a big part of the production's power, and inevitably some of this is lost when the actors are moved to a conventional stage (though Van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld compensate for this to some degree by putting some of the audience onstage to surround the action).
But a conventional stage also signifies artifice and makes it easier for the audience out in the stalls and circles to accept the more abstract setting and heightened emotions Van Hove's actors bring to the play, freeing the director to move even further into non-realistic staging of the later scenes, which actually work better here than they did at the Young Vic.
Mark Strong's performance as the man driven by passions he cannot understand or acknowledge remains one of the rawest and most powerful pieces of acting of this or any other year, and Michael Gould as the chorus-like lawyer feels even more integrated into the action and the style, rather than seeming to have wandered in from some other play, as that character has in too many previous productions.
Arthur Miller always maintained that ordinary people of the modern world could be the subject of high tragedy, a faith that literary critics and audiences have always indulged with a degree of reservation or charity. This extraordinary production of A View From The Bridge proves that the dramatist was right all along, and just needed a brilliant director, designer and cast to bring his vision alive.
This is not only the best View From The Bridge I've ever seen, but the best production of any Arthur Miller play.
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