Tuesday 17 February 2015

A View From The Bridge - Review

Wyndham's Theatre, London


Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Ivo Van Hove

Mark Strong and Phoebe Fox

Ivo Van Hove's production of A View From The Bridge, first presented at the Young Vic last year, was one of the capital's 2014 highlights. Transferring across the Thames for a limited run at the Wyndham's, the searching intensity of this sensational piece of theatre has been stunningly maintained.

A View From The Bridge is a classic of 20th century American literature, yet this modern play's themes, drawn from classic lines of Greek tragedy are both universal and primeval. Treachery and revenge amongst immigrant American community, fuelled by an abusive and incestuous craving that burns inside longshoreman Eddie Carbone. Wife Beatrice is neglected as Eddie's infernal desire for orphaned niece and ward Catherine, a girl on the cusp of womanhood, stealthily consumes him.

Performed predominantly barefoot, against Jan Versweyveld's simple white rectangle of a stage that is barely fenced in by a shallow perimeter, the concept is stark. And yet with no scenery, the claustrophobic oppression of a Brooklyn tenement is cleverly suggested. There are moments when the actors appear in silhouette such is the brightness of the arena, the contrast between the dark and the good so cleverly, yet so simply suggested.

Mark Strong reprises his latin Carbone in a performance that is akin to a perfectly-tuned engine throbbing at the heart of a Ferrari. Strong's power of expression and his physical presence are immaculately presented. Muscular and forceful it is easy to see how he has so wrongfully channelled his passion towards the young girl. And yet in a moment of truly rare dramatic intensity, when illegal immigrant Marco challenges Eddie to a test of strength in lifting a chair one-handed, Strong's wannabe alpha-male is simply and virtually - and publicly -  emasculated in an abject and humiliating display of failure. 

Echoing a Greek Chorus, Michael Gould's Alfieri is Eddie's lawyer. Part counsellor to Carbone, part narrator to the audience, Alfieri's character, critical to the narrative is a moral compass that the Longshoreman is bound to ignore. Such is the level of craft, not only in Miller's writing but also in this company's performances that Carbone's destiny is subtly signalled and sensed.

Nicola Walker's Beatrice imbues the complex bitterness of a woman who sees and understands all around her yet is powerless to effect change. Walker's work is flawless. Catherine is played by the gamine Phoebe Fox. Initially unaware of the desire she stirs in the men around her, Fox masters the girl's interwoven naïveté and unintentional provocation. As she wraps her legs around her uncle during an embrace, we shudder.

Emun Elliott's Marco commands both fear and sympathy as he strives, albeit illegally, to earn money for his family back in Italy. Together with his brother Rodolpho (Luke Norris), both characters define the decent everyman of the play - though Miller relentlessly has us question Rodolpho's sexuality even as Catherine is falling in love with him.

Like an expert surgeon, Miller understands the human condition like no other modern dramatist, stripping it to the bones in a play that is as gripping as it is unbearable. As Van Hove’s bloody conclusion leaves you stunned, there is no finer play in London.

Runs until 11th April 2015

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