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A View From the Bridge

The Young Vic’s multi award-winning production of Arthur Miller’s drama moves to the West End with none of its considerable power dimmed.

Miller famously asserted that what he called the common man was fit subject for high tragedy, and, although that idea is usually associated with Death of a Salesman, it is A View From the Bridge that most severely tests the proposition.

Operatic passions and a chorus figure warning poetically of fate and doom have too often in past productions seemed awkwardly overlaid on a realistic domestic melodrama anchored in a specific time, place and culture. It took a Belgian-Dutch director working with British actors to re-imagine this American play and prove Miller’s hopes of tragic stature valid.

Director Ivo Van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld eliminate the clash of modes by audaciously removing all physical signifiers of the realistic setting. Placing the action on a bare sandy space with the cast barefoot in nondescript clothing lifts us out of 1950s Brooklyn into a no place/any place that could be the plains of Greece and frees the actors to speak Miller’s prose-poetry without inhibition.

In this context Mark Strong as Eddie Carbone can present the naked agony of a character feeling passions he cannot acknowledge and driven to actions that violate his culture’s deepest taboos without seeming, as too many previous Eddies have, to be overplaying the feelings of a very ordinary man.

It is a raw performance on a level you might hope for in an Oedipus or Othello, but wouldn’t expect in an Arthur Miller character.

Another direct beneficiary of this production is the choric lawyer Alfieri, who has too often seemed to wander in from some other play written in a different style. Instead, actor Michael Gould can weave a spell with talk of destiny and passion that is wholly in tune with the rest of the play.

If anything is lost in the transformation of the play, it is the power of the two women in the cast, whose role is largely to establish the realistic domestic setting that has now been abandoned.

Phoebe Fox makes niece Catherine attractive by emphasising her growth and new-found strength in the course of the play, but Nicola Walker as Eddie’s wife must offer generous support as a character whose function has been radically reduced.

The transfer from three-quarters-round staging at the Young Vic to a proscenium stage does affect the immediacy and intensity, a loss that is made up for in part by putting some of the audience onstage, Equus-style.

But putting the play on a real stage helps the audience accept its new, non-naturalistic mode, and the final scenes, which the director makes even more abstract and symbolic than what came before, are stronger here than they were at the Young Vic.

February 10-April 11, PN February 16

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Verdict
Radical production vindicating Miller’s faith that his play was high tragedy transfers from the Young Vic with all its power intact
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