There’s a moment in A View From The Bridge where the blossoming Catherine (Leila Mimmack) is supposed to light a cigar for her bear of an uncle, Eddie Carbone (Con O’Neill) who has brought her up in tough, working class Brooklyn. In this particular performance however, Mimmack dropped the burning match onto O’Neill’s trousers. The effortlessly natural - and hilarious - way he dealt with such unscripted drama completely sums up this remarkable staging of one of Arthur Miller’s masterpieces.
Con O'Neill (Eddie Carbone), Leila Mimmack (Catherine) and Anna Francolini (Beatrice) in A View From A Bridge at the Royal Exchange, Manchester Photo: Jonathan Keenan
The real joy, here, is how director Sarah Frankcom and a uniformly excellent cast tease out the subtleties in the obvious tragedy. Eddie Carbone is a mixed-up longshoreman who struggles with the knowledge that his niece is growing up, not entirely sure what his feelings are towards her. He turns on Catherine’s well-meaning illegal immigrant boyfriend Rodolpho, (played with real comic brio by Ronan Raftery) and it’s made clear every time portentous narrator Alfieri (Redford, the only one to struggle with the accent) takes the stage that this can’t possibly end well.
But this is more than mere melodramatic soap opera. Eddie’s shrewd wife Beatrice (an outstanding Anna Francolini) both understands the importance of family yet the need for Catherine to fly the nest. The feelings Eddie has may or may not be incestuous. The brilliance of O’Neill’s performance is that he conveys the conflicted sides of a man who genuinely doesn’t know himself, who can lurch from a caring uncle who only wants the best for his niece to a beast wielding a knife.
Add in some fascinating social backdrop - of work as a defining instinct and the unbreakable yet unspoken codes of respect in society - and this is a deep, satisfying play. The Royal Exchange has more than done it justice.