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Theatre Review: A View From The Bridge. By William Cook

Arts | By William Cook

An Englishman in New York: Dominic West as Eddie Carbone. Illustration by Gary Wing.

THEATRE

WILLIAM COOK

A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, until 3rd August

Going to the theatre is often a maddening experience.

The seats are cramped, the tickets are expensive and fashionable productions are often spoiled by wokery and gimmickry. Sometimes, I’m sorely tempted simply to stay in and watch TV. And then, every so often, along comes a show that restores my faith and makes me fall in love with live drama again.

A View from the Bridge is such a show. What’s most notable about it is all the things it doesn’t do. It doesn’t try to reinvent a period piece for a modern audience. It doesn’t cast against type or take liberties with the text. This Theatre Royal Bath production plays it straight, and it’s all the better for it. It confirms the old adage: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Arthur Miller wrote A View from the Bridge in 1955. Nearly 70 years later, its subject is more relevant than ever.

Immigration has become a political hot potato in Britain – never more so than during this summer’s general election. Miller reminds us it was ever thus–intheUSasmuchasintheUK.

Yet, rather than writing a preachy diatribe about this contentious issue, he examines the experience of one immigrant family in 1950s Brooklyn, creating a timeless classic which transcends its era and its locale.

Eddie and Beatrice are a hard-up Italian-American couple heading down the long, lonely road of middle age. Eddie works at the docks, loading and unloading the big ships that steam in and out of New York. He’s a decent bloke, but GARY SMITH he’s too uptight. You can tell there’s trouble ahead.

Eddie and Beatrice are childless. They live with their orphaned niece, a pretty, precocious girl called Catherine, who’s about to turn 18.

Eddie loves Catherine like a daughter – maybe a bit more than a daughter – and he’s terrified of losing her. Then he takes in two cousins from the old country, called Marco and Rodolpho, and his world comes crashing down.

Marco is a devout family man, here to make money for his wife and kids in Italy. Rodolpho is young, free and single, with no dependants back home. You can see what’s coming, but you have no idea how it’ll play out. Eddie’s love for Catherine isn’t overtly sexual – nor is it purely paternal. The resultant crisis is unavoidable. We watch it unfurl with gritted teeth.

Dominic West is magnificent as Eddie, flailing around like a wounded lion. Like all tragic heroes, he’s a moral man corrupted by a passion he can’t control or comprehend. West achieves this alchemy with immense skill and honesty. It takes a lot of guts to lay yourself bare like this.

This is a fiery, fearless performance which I would gladly pay good money to see again.

Eddie is such an overwhelming role that the other characters can easily shrink into the background. Full marks to all the other actors for fleshing out these supporting parts and turning them into proper people. Nia Towle is a feisty, fragile Catherine – part woman, part little girl. Pierro Niel-Mee is a mesmeric Marco – the moody peasant who becomes Eddie’s nemesis.

Kate Fleetwood breaks your heart as Beatrice, Eddie’s dutiful, defeated wife. Martin Marquez oozes gravitas as the sad, wise lawyer who narrates the play.

Callum Scott Howells’s Rodolpho is rather too nice (I would have liked a bit more ambiguity about whether he’s really as innocent as he makes out), but that’s my only gripe. Lindsay Posner has directed this play before and he clearly knows it inside out. As with all the best directors, you hardly know he’s there.

And, like all the best plays, A View from the Bridge gets better each time you see it. The first time I saw it, as a teenager, I identified entirely with Rodolpho, and Eddie’s agonies left me completely cold. Now, with a teenage daughter of my own, I have a much better understanding of how he feels.

Letting go of someone you love is one of life’s most painful lessons, and it’s a lesson we must learn, or we’ll tear ourselves apart like Eddie. When it comes to confronting these profound matters, there’s no better forum than the stage. Theatre-going is full of frustrations and disappointments but at its best, as it is here, there’s nothing quite like it in all the world.


This story was from July 2024 issue. Subscribe Now