Headlong, Octagon Theatre Bolton, Chichester Festival Theatre and Rose Theatre
Octagon Theatre Bolton
September 8-30, 2023; 2hrs 25min
(also Chichester Festival Theatre; Rose Theatre Kingston)
Immigration - legal or otherwise - is currently in the daily news but we shouldn't forget that this has been an issue throughout history. Clashes of cultures, moral and legal codes, are inevitable.
Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge is set against one such period, that of mass immigration from Italy in the 1950s.
It tells the story of a family in a poor, close-knit Italian community in Red Hook, near the Brooklyn Bridge, New York, where people try to live the American Dream and make their fortunes - if the Syndicate will allow it.
Eddie Carbone, a dockland longshoreman, lives here with his wife Beatrice and her orphaned niece Catherine. Eddie and Catherine are close, but she is 17 and, as Beatrice points out to both of them, now a young woman who should have some independence.
Beatrice's cousins Marco and Rodolpho, arriving illegally from impoverished Sicily, are sheltered willingly by Eddie until Rodolpho and Catherine fall in love. This proves to be a spark that smoulders until it lights an absolute inferno of emotions, from lust to jealousy, honesty to prejudice, honour to betrayal. This was never going to end well.
Eddie Carbone is a complex and contradictory character. At numerous points in the play Beatrice says she doesn't understand him. Nor do we, the audience.
In fact, nor does he understand himself. Is he someone who does the honourable thing according to US law, or someone who does the honourable thing according to the code of his community? At times he thinks of Catherine as his baby, his little girl. At others as the Madonna. But what is also going on is a desire he can't bring himself to acknowledge.
Rodolpho doesn't behave like the macho male typical of the Red Hook culture and Eddie therefore believes - or tells himself, confusing sexuality and masculinity - that the young man must be gay. To him, Rodolpho is not a suitable husband for Catherine, but underlying this is his wish not to let the teenager go. His jealousy leads to actions that go against the moral code of his community, and too late he realises the consequences.
Lancashire-born Jonathan Slinger, making his Arthur Miller stage debut in the role of Eddie, convincingly displays a wide range of emotions, and while we see his character's faults, we also feel some sympathy for him.
As Beatrice, Kirsty Bushell is a caring aunt, a loving and dutiful wife but also a woman with sexual needs and a wide-eyed realisation of what is going on between Eddie and Catherine. Bushell is believable as someone facing dilemmas that at times make her waspish and at others, supportive.
Rachelle Diedericks plays Catherine initially as a teenager who still behaves as a little girl with her uncle, with a physicality that, as Beatrice observes, is not at all appropriate. Gradually Diedericks develops Catherine, as the girl becomes aware of her maturing sexuality and identity.
Alfieri, the lawyer, is narrator and commentator as well as a participant in the action. The role is reminiscent of a Greek chorus and indeed the play is structured like a Greek tragedy, with a flawed protagonist and a doomed ending. Nancy Crane takes this part – the first time Alfieri has been played by a woman. It is difficult to see what this change adds, but nor does it detract.
Tommy Sim’aan as Marco and Luke Newberry as Rodolpho both grow into their roles as their characters and behaviour change.
The production has a dark and somewhat stark set, designed by Moi Tran. The only colour is the large red neon "Red Hook" sign, reflected in the black-polished floor. At times this acts as the water, which can be viewed from a gallery “bridge”. The view and the bridge are literally and symbolically what give the play its title. The bridge is between the old and new worlds, geographically and culturally, and there are the multiple points of view of the participants and indeed ourselves.
A further symbol is that of a swing on which, at the start of the first act, Catherine is playing like a little girl. At the start of the second act the swing is empty. The little girl has gone.
Directed by Holly Race Roughan of Headlong, this is the first major production of A View From The Bridge in almost a decade.
When Miller was asked what he wanted to be remembered for, the playwright said: “A few good parts for actors”. This production gives us a cast who play their roles not simply with proficiency, but with a great deal more.
More info and tickets here