A View from the Bridge
Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
For the Royal Exchange Theatre's revival of Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge, Con O'Neill has matured from his 1988 Olivier Award-winning portrayal of Micky in Willy Russell's Blood Brothers to another tragic figure whose downfall is watched sadly by a disapproving narrator and ends with... well, a strikingly similar image if not with a tearjerking song.
Miller's working class tragic hero is Eddie Carbone, an Italian-American longshoreman who lives with his wife Beatrice and niece Catherine near the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and who agrees to shelter two of his wife's Italian cousins, Marco and Rudolpho, from the immigration authorities when they come to America to look for work. Marco is a good worker who keeps his head down, but Rudopho likes to go out and enjoy himself and shows rather too much interest in Catherine for Eddie's liking, until his attempts to split the couple up start to go too far.
Against the backdrop of illegal migrant workers in 1950s America trying desperately to feed their families when there is no work at home, the central story of the play focuses on Eddie and Catherine. Their relationship is close, loving and protective from the start, and Beatrice warns both of them, separately, that Catherine is now a young woman and they shouldn't be quite as free with one another as when she was a child, especially as Eddie is not her father. He denies with disgust suggestions that his interest in her may be sexual, but his obsession with keeping her in his control goes from over-the-top disapproval of any man or job who may come between them to rather more desperate actions with severe consequences for them all.
This is a part that O'Neill could have been building up to playing for years as his distinctive high, throaty voice and his laid back but very intense acting style are perfect for the character. He creates a Carbone who is warm, loving and loveable if a bit touchy and frustrating at times and it's hard, as an audience, not to warm to him, so when his obsessions take him on a road that we know will end badly, we are with him all the way, desperate to pull him back. Opposite him, Leila Mimmack as Catherine matures visibly throughout the play and puts across very well her despair that the person who has been such a close father figure to her is becoming increasingly hard to love.
Anna Francolini as Beatrice is the strong housewife who tries to keep the delicate emotional balance in the household and tries to be the voice of reason. Nitzan Sharron is the intense, serious Italian brother Marco who seems to be the sensible one until he is provoked later in the play and becomes a tense ball of anger, whereas Ronan Raftery as Rodolpho goes from being the frivolous one—his first scene in the house is hilarious—to the one who tries the hardest to diffuse the anger and tension. Ian Redford as narrating lawyer Alfieri is a constant doom-laden presence.
There is a cast of thirteen actors for this production plus a community chorus, so beloved of theatres at the moment, which doesn't really have a great deal to do apart from add some bodies to the stage picture at the very beginning and end. On the down side, many of the accents are a little variable and sometimes it is confusing on James Cotterill's set that combines the interior and exterior of the house who is inside and who is outside, but these are minor niggles.
In all, this is a production with a very strong central performance and some very good support, a surprising amount of humour—real, belly laugh comedy—and a powerful emotional punch in a story that teeters on the edge of melodrama without losing the audience's sympathy or belief in the characters. In fact, a hugely enjoyable night at the theatre.
Reviewer: David Chadderton