Celebrating the centenary year of Arthur Miller’s birth without a David Thacker production is hardly worth the candle. The creative synergy of this writer-director pairing, which stretches back to Thacker’s Young Vic artistic directorship, was prolific and never flickered, Thacker’s 1994 Bristol Old Vic production of Miller’s immigrant drama transferring to the West End.
So, midway through his final season as the Octagon’s artistic director, is Thacker’s new look at the tragedy of Brooklyn stevedore Eddie Carbone, fatally in love with his own niece, a trip down memory lane?
Presented without scenery, apart from a few sticks of furniture beneath a girder bridge and grainy dockside images, Eddie’s predestined path to destruction is brutally revealed. It’s a stripped-down concept that mirrors the smouldering bleakness of Miller’s tale, as narrated by Patrick Poletti’s silver-haired Alfieri – who is more father confessor to the obsessed Eddie than lawyer – leaving no doubt that we are observing the inevitable death of a longshoreman.
And when Colin Connor’s bullheaded Eddie finally climbs the bridge and attempts to reclaim the honour codes that he’s betrayed, Thacker’s in-the-round staging instantly elevates his pleading beyond theatre and into a real public forum, with the audience sitting in judgement.
Removing layers of production clutter does, however, expose the acting. Some characters are unevenly drawn. Others could be more emotionally interconnected than they already are, although Barbara Drennan, as the wife pulled between family loyalty and Eddie’s tunnel vision attitudes, and Natasha Davidson, as the naive niece becoming her own woman before our eyes, get pretty close.
Verdict: This revealing new version of Arthur Miller’s working-class tragedy could expose more pent-up emotion