'A View From The Bridge' or 'He allowed himself purely to be known.'

‘A View From The Bridge’, Arthur Miller
Young Vic, 14th April 2014
Written for Blouin Artinfo

Do you think you know Arthur Miller? Do you think you know his classic, ‘A View From The Bridge’? Think again. This extraordinary production from Belgian director Ivo van Hove strips down Miller’s well-worn play and exposes it afresh; naked, pure and thrilling. Less than two hours long and without an interval, this is a lean and lethal production. Anyone who gives two hoots about Miller, or indeed theatre, should do all they can to secure a ticket.

Miller’s play is set in 1950s Brooklyn, although you wouldn’t know it to look at Jan Versweyveld’s anonymous and monochrome set. A white floor is surrounded by a black frame, which runs around the bottom of the stage and also hangs over it. The space looks like a laboratory, a boxing ring, a weird dream. There is only one entrance and exit point and the feeling of entrapment is strong.

The space also suggests the internal world of dock worker and tragic hero, Eddie (Mark Strong). The show’s narrator, lawyer Alfieri, frequently refers to Eddie’s ‘tunnel-like’ eyes and it is easy to see those dark tunnels obliquely mimicked in the set. Eddie, hemmed in on stage, is trapped in a world of his own making. He is trapped by his excessive love for his beautiful niece, Catherine (Phoebe Fox); he is trapped by his prejudices, his pride and his shame.

Ivo van Hove (artistic director of Toneelgroep Amsterdam) and dramaturg Bart Van den Eynde have done an exceptional job of streamlining Miller’s play. Well-worn lines sound newly minted and crystal clear. The first half, which sees Eddie house two illegal Italian immigrants in his Brooklyn home, is packed with double negatives. When Catherine promises to keep quiet about these immigrants, she tells Eddie: ‘I won’t say a word to nobody.’  All those double negatives subtly hint at a fate, a true meaning, just beyond Eddie and Catherine’s grasp.

A powerful feeling of inevitability emerges. It is there in the pained tones of narrator Alfieri (Michael Gould) who circles the stage, as if desperate to jump in and alter the action. It rumbles beneath Tom Gibbon’s enveloping soundtrack, which is an inspired mixture of celestial classical music and ominous, tinny drum beats. That inevitability also shimmers behind the meta-theatrical glimpses in this production; the moments when the actors step outside the scenes or break down the dialogue, suggesting a pre-determined plot and absent writer, well beyond their control.

That feeling of tragic inevitability also emanates from Mark Strong’s Eddie, the battered soul of this brilliant production. Although Eddie strokes his niece like a kitten, there’s something about Strong’s stiff posture and steely gaze that suggests a man on the edge of a boxing ring. Nicola Walker is strong, even vicious, as Eddie’s frustrated wife Beatrice. It is a bold performance, which places Beatrice at the heart of the tragedy rather than hovering in the wings. Phoebe Fox’s Catherine transforms from a warm innocent into a cold yet passionate adult.

A feeling of dread hovers above the production, threatening to slam down at any moment. In the final scene, the exit point is blocked. There is nowhere left to turn. The heavens open and the stage is drowned in red. The stench of red dye seeps out into a gobsmacked and shattered audience.