The guy ain’t right
The revival of Arthur Miller’s 1955 play A View from the Bridge has received 7 Olivier award nominations this year (results: 12 April). And all I can say is that this is exactly my kind of theatre production, with a focus on the power of imagination thanks to its bare set and the actors’ movements.
After A Streetcar Named Desire (also a Young Vic production), this is my second NT Live experience, and it is still a lucky one, transcendental but so relaxed at the same time.
A View from the Bridge tells the story of a Brooklyn family (Eddie, Beatrice and their late teenage niece Catherine) who hosts two Italian brothers Marco and Rodolpho (Emun Elliott and Luke Norris) fresh off the boat, although the two have no right to remain in the USA. Eddie (Mark Strong) helps the two find jobs working on the peer and earning money that they can send back to their poor families back in Italy. Pretty quickly, Catherine (Phoebe Fox) falls for Rodolpho (Norris), and they soon decide to get married. Eddie becomes highly possessive of his niece, and will try everything to stop this wedding from happening… with dangerous consequences.
Belgian director Ivo van Hove, artistic director of Toneelgroep Amsterdam, and also director of Antigone with Juliette Binoche, has created a bold and hauting show which so differs from naturalistic London shows. No wonder this show was first put on at the Young Vic.
The set is simple: a white carpet on which the actors walk barefoot, surrounded by low glass windows; a black wall and a dark thin door frame which we can only imagine leads to the open, away from Eddie’s claustrophobic home.
Thanks to this simplicity, our focus shifts to the story, the text. Who needs chairs and grass to represent a garden? Who needs an image of New York City or the port to set the scene? Miller’s text is more than enough to bring us into a world of obsessive love and desperation.
I enjoy these kinds of sets that give the audience’s imagination more power. Bart van den Eynde contributes to this thanks to his dramaturgy and movement choices, with Catherine sleeping in a ball on the edge of the stage, or the poignant final scene with all actors creating an interlaced group to portray the violence between the characters. The text’s speed is also played with: in one of the best scenes, the main characters have a long conversation out on the porch which goes from awkward to angry. The long silences between the lines were exquisite in highlighting that what is left inside will sooner or later explode.
This also give an occasion for Van Hove to accentuate the big themes he sees in the play. To me, one theme is religion. Although God is rarely mentioned, the theme of the shower in the opening and closing scenes struck me. While in the opening, Eddie is cleaning himself after a day of work, the final bloody rainfall relieves him from his obsessed life while also covering all the other characters with some kind of sin. It’s a fascinating staging choice, and quite shocking after such a plain choice of colour on the set.
Speaking of which, all characters wear dark or grey colours, apart from Catherine, who first wears a jumper with flowers but later wears grey and black.
Immigration is also a theme, with the Italians speaking in the same accent as the locals. What if we took away accents as one of our distinctive traits? Wouldn’t everything be easier?
This is a very strong ensemble cast. Phoebe Fox perfectly shows the feelings of a young woman who does not want to marry without her uncle approving. Luke Norris and Emun Elliott are clearly physical actors who show their passion for a new land of opportunity. Mark Strong, at the centre of the show, effortlessly portrays a heartbroken man who can’t quite combine his openness to the new with his closed feeling of family. “His eyes were like tunnels” – they certainly were.
This is really a unique show which escapes the naturalistic set for a more raw and almost animal tone.