Subjecting a very realistic and time-and-place-bound play to a non-traditional staging proves a successful risk for director Ivo van Hove who, by moving from a Brooklyn apartment to a bare thrust stage, achieves Arthur Miller’s quest to make tragedy out of the experience of the common man.
Stripped of visual specifics, the play takes on a classical and universal air, and any incongruities of tone or language are minimised, exposing and enhancing the story of a man driven by passions he cannot recognise to violate a basic moral imperative of his culture.
Without the need to be an earthbound Brooklyn longshoreman, Mark Strong as Eddie Carbone plays the pure emotions and experiences of obsession, confusion and ultimate madness with a classical and overpowering rawness.
The unencumbered focus on this central figure, and Strong’s naked performance, reduce most of the other characters to incidentals, with Nicola Walker’s Beatrice the biggest victim – the actress is simply not permitted to generate the solid domestic reality that is the character’s usual function.
In contrast, Michael Gould’s Alfieri is integrated more successfully than usual into the world of the play, the lawyer-narrator’s poetic mode less distant from the rest and the actor evocatively capturing the sense of a concerned but impotent chorus.
There are some lapses, including a heavy-handed and obtrusive musical score and some dodgy accents, and, like any non-traditional staging, this may occasionally be obscure to those unfamiliar with the play. But the production is thoroughly and excitingly successful in conveying the essence of Miller’s tragic vision.