A View from the Bridge written by Arthur Miller
A co-production from Headlong Productions, the Octagon Theatre and the Rose Theatre
Director: Holly Race Roughan Chichester Festival Theatre
This masterpiece from Arthur Miller has been the subject of film and theatre more than once since its 1955 debut. I can’t say it’s my favourite amongst Miller’s portfolio, which include ‘Death of a Salesman’, ‘The Misfits’ (screenplay) and ‘After the Fall’, amongst many others, however it definitely rates higher for me than the immensely more depressing ‘The Crucible’. Of course, Miller was equally famous for being a sometime spouse of Marilyn Monroe, but that’s a whole other story.
Being a lifelong Alan Ayckbourn fan, I’ve seen his 1987 version of this play, which was simply wonderful, but I have to say that Holly Race Roughan’s version is definitely up there as a contestant for first place, in my estimation. The casting was brilliant (mostly) and the role of Eddie, the main protagonist (played by Jonathan Slinger) was utterly convincing as a man with absolutely no redeeming features. Outwardly full of swagger, revealed beneath as cowardly, weak and sexually constipated. Just downright nasty. Even his love for his niece was of such revoltingly all-consuming possessiveness that you could almost feel the claustrophobic destructiveness of it. No, as you can tell, I really didn’t like that man.
The tightly knit cast played one another off seamlessly, and despite the predominant roles of Eddie, Beatrice (Kirsty Bushell) and Catherine (their niece played by Rachelle Diedericks), this was a truly ensemble piece. Narrated by Ms Alfieri, a Brooklyn lawyer (Nancy Crane), she kicked off the play and set the scene. The 1950s post war era brought many Italian / Sicilian men to New York from their battered, impoverished homelands, all seeking a better life. They left their families, hoping to earn enough to bring them over to this shiny new world after several years, the vast majority of them going straight to Manhattan to work as stevedores on the docks. However, much of the previous generation had been born in America and long settled in their communities. This particular community was in Red Hook, close to the Brooklyn Bridge.
Moi Tran’s set at the Chichester was as bleak and sparse as the play itself, apparently as a metaphor representing, at the higher level, the bridge between Manhattan’s jurisdiction and that of the Italian community’s long held ancient values and ‘family laws’. Alfierie’s narration throughout the play helped us to get a grip on this and how it would lead eventually to conflict, rebellion and destruction. Throughout we heard the rumbling, portentous sounds created by Max Perryment, creating the atmosphere of impending doom which so surely was to come.
Act One soon acquainted us with the unhealthy manipulative power Eddie Carbone inflicted on his niece, as she grew from child to young woman, his ugly possessiveness and jealousy so unrelentingly displacing his original affection. We were also introduced to the Carbone’s two cousins, Marco (Tommy Sim’aan) and Rudolfo (Luke Newberry) who Beatrice welcomed into their household. Not so warmly, Eddie. Plus they were illegals.
I have to say here that Kirsty Bushell as the long suffering Beatrice, was off the scale in her performance. Truly magnificent. She was strong, fiery and seemingly unassailable. At the same time loyal, empathetic and with a fierce intelligence. Yes, Kirsty ran the gamut of emotions, and all hail to her talent, she was totally compelling.
Very soon, Catherine and Rudolfo became a bit of an item, and then it all kicked off. Act 2 brought the play to a crescendo and an explosive ending of inevitable tragedy. Much like a Shakespearian plot, all the elements were there to create catastrophe, and catastrophe there was. Buckets of it.
This was a great production, and I’d urge everyone who can, to go and see this new play which has always embraced the themes of love, jealousy, justice and respect. Immigration has long remained a tricky subject, and revisiting Miller’s play of some 70 years ago demonstrates that the essence of the subject is still so very relevant today. I only have one or two difficulties with Holly Race Roughan’s production: I really couldn’t quite figure out why we had the occasional pirouette across the stage from the – albeit very accomplished – dockworker. Was he supposed to give us a hint of homoeroticism? Maybe it was too subtle for me, but I just found it a trifle distracting. Not sure about the set too. A metaphor between a bridge between two worlds? The joined up wooden seats along it looked like those of a pre-modern airport terminal. Chichester has always done so well with backdrop images, and I really think that a fabulous 1950’s black and white image of the Brooklyn Bridge would have created much more of a Zeitgeist feel.
Having said that, I really commend this production. The performances from the cast are outstanding, and the themes will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.
2 hours 25 minutes including interval.
Friday 6 – Saturday 28 October, then touring
Reviewer: Gill Ranson