A View from the Bridge
York Theatre Royal and Royal & Derngate, Northampton
York Theatre Royal
Director Juliet Forster offered an impressive Crucible at the Theatre Royal some years ago and now takes on another Miller classic. It’s a tale of honesty, working-class identity and America’s complex attitudes to immigration; it’s not hard to see the appeal of staging it today.
The stage is set with Rhys Jarman’s simple but impressive multi-level design and a bustle of activity from the supporting community-cast ensemble. It’s an effective framing for the opening action, with a couple of working pulleys and winches giving the impression of men and women at work, along with the introductory monologue from the play’s narrator figure, lawyer Alfieri (Robert Pickavance).
Though his character stands on the outskirts of the story looking in, Pickavance leads us into the world assuredly, marking the rhythms and beats of the text, and the New Yorker voice, with ease and great presence.
Likewise Nicholas Karimi as Eddie Carbone, the human centre of the tale. Karimi is plausibly well-built and carries himself increasingly heavily as the play progresses. He is one of the strongest of the cast at making the language sing. Forster has sought to emphasise not only the precarity of an immigrant’s status but the classical tragedy of Eddie’s story. His fatal flaw—his relationship with his niece Catherine (Lili Miller)—is well-sketched: it’s over-attachment edging into something darker, rather than the more overtly sexual attraction of some productions.
When Marco and Rodolpho, relatives from Sicily smuggled in on a shipping vessel, turn up on the doorstep, the power balance of the family unit is tangibly disturbed. This is another aspect which Forster handles well, with the status play between Eddie and Marco (an impressively watchful and restrained Reuben Johnson) particularly compelling. Pedro Leandro plays Rodolpho with the required level of excitable, wildly gesturing flamboyance, while staying the right side of caricature.
These are the stand-outs, and the whole cast gives solid performances. Yet while this is, overall, a sturdy production, there is little memorable here, no especially revelatory moments. In the second half, a feverish pitch and volume pervades the stage relatively early, leaving the protagonists with nowhere to travel, and with limited physical and vocal options.
And beyond the opening moments and the climax of the drama, the set feels underused; a decorative frame rather than a functional addition to a story that, in essence, takes place in just two rooms. The community ensemble members, likewise, serve as set dressing rather than having any deeper involvement along the lines of recent community-led productions, and the show gains little from their presence. Forster’s (and the Theatre Royal’s) commitment to community engagement is laudable, but here it feels like a distraction.
I was lucky enough to catch the 2014 Ivo van Hove production (via an NT Live screening) with an unbelievably muscular and dangerous Mark Strong in the lead role. While it’s perhaps an unfair comparison, it felt as though the more abstract and more inventive set of that production might have provided a model for how to achieve the stated aims of placing focus on the live issues of immigration policy and attitudes.
In this production, at a time when the UK’s prime minister has been found to have acted unlawfully yet (at the time of writing) is refusing to back down or to take any kind of conciliatory tone, it’s the strand of the play that declares "justice is very important here" that, surprisingly, hits home hardest.
Reviewer: Mark Smith