Review by Rosie Holmes
‘I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were,’ said Arthur Miller, and in A View from the Bridge, the audience witness the tragedy of a working man of low standing. In centring the drama around Eddie, Miller creates a visceral and dramatic tragedy that is still able to thrill audiences today. In a collaborative production between Octagon Theatre, Rose Theatre and Chichester Festival Theatre, the play sees its first major revival since 2015, and in my first ever viewing of the play I was very keen to see why it has been so highly lauded.
A View from the Bridge centres around Eddie Carbone, his wife Bea, and their orphaned niece, Catherine. Situated in Red Hook, Brooklyn, they house two illegal immigrants, cousins of Bea’s from Sicily. As Rodolfo and Marco begin living with the family, the new dynamic uncovers underlying tensions simmering under the surface of a family that is, at first glance, loving and happy. Catherine falls for Rodolfo, and Eddie, possessed by jealousy, spirals into a rage as he struggles with uncomfortable feelings for his teenage niece. Based on the style of a Greek Tragedy, ever-present lawyer Alfieri comments on the action in a verse-like prose throughout.
Eddie Carbone, the everyman, is played by Jonathan Slinger, who presents at first as a respectable man, bringing up his orphaned niece, housing two immigrants, hardened by his days of long-work as a longshoreman. Yet Slinger plays the part expertly, and we soon begin to see hints of the underlying tensions within – hidden passions, his uptight nature – alerting us to the fact all is not well. He is able to show warmth in his love towards his niece, humour in some of Miller’s witty one-liners, but also, in a thrilling and tense finale, all the emotion of a man whose fatal flaw has destroyed his respected place within the community.
Kirsty Bushell is his wife, Beatrice. While in many readings of Miller’s play, Carbone is read as flawed, but sympathised with, in this production it is surely Bushell’s masterclass performance of Bea that wins sympathy. She is all at once a hardened Brooklyn woman, playing cards with the workers, but also vulnerable and desperate for love. Bushell’s work also highlights the submissiveness of the role of wife in the 1940s, heeding warnings, but also unable to stop inevitable tragedy. Her niece Catherine is played by Rachelle Diedricks, transforming throughout the two acts from giddy, loving and naïve young girl to a woman in love, trapped by her own love towards two men.
It is perhaps a shame, despite the wonderful acting of the whole company, that there was not a little more chemistry between Luke Newberry’s Rodolpho and Diedrick’s Catherine. Perhaps more chemistry and passion between the two would have proved for a more convincing counter argument to Eddie’s view that Rodolpho wished only to be with Catherine only marrying for citizenship. This therefore would have further intensified the spiral into madness that Eddie’s love for Catherine causes.
Nancy Crane plays lawyer Alfieri, in fact this is the first time the role has been played by a woman in a professional production. Wonderful in her almost dream-like delivery of the poetic prose, she is ever-present on stage reacting to the actions of Eddie, whom she tries to advise. Whilst Crane herself is accomplished in her performance, I can’t help but think was a little darkness missing from her role, delivering such foreboding lines, I wished they were delivered with a little more heaviness.
Director Holly Race-Roughan strips back the setting of the play. Set design by Moi Tran sees mostly a blank, black stage, with a neon sign spelling Red Hook as the backdrop. Save for a few record players and chairs, there are little props nor dressing. In many ways the red against the black, the use of fog and smoke, adds to the increasing drama and tension within the piece. It is also perhaps a nod to the fact that Miller’s work is still incredibly relevant, this is a piece that explores the humanity of immigrants and toxic masculinity, all topics of great discussion today and so doesn’t need to be places within a specific time period.
I, however, longed to be transported back to the bustle of Brooklyn, for the most part the piece is set in a small tenement flat under the Brooklyn bridge, a more visual representation of this busy and crowded place would perhaps have lent itself more to the increasing claustrophobia and tensions the cohabiting immigrants and Carbone family experienced. There are also brief moments of ballet performed in the background as Eddie further succumbs to his flaws. I suppose this is perhaps adds to the suggested homoeroticism of the piece, but whilst beautifully performed by Elijah Holloway it doesn’t really seem to add anything to the piece and even left me desperately searching to find a reason behind such artistic choice.
A View From the Bridge at the Rose Theatre does a wonderful job of showcasing just what a remarkable playwright Arthur Miller was. This piece has stood the test of time in its ability to explore topical issues as well as to entertain and shock audiences. I came to it, having never seen a production of the play before, so had little to compare it to, but despite some creative decisions that didn’t completely win me over, the production still certainly proved to me why this play is a classic.
A View From The Bridge plays at Rose Theatre, Kingston until 11th November 2023, tickets and more information here - A View from the Bridge — Starring Jonathan Slinger and Nancy Crane | Rose Theatre, Kingston, London
Photos by The Other Richard