A View from the Bridge is one of Arthur Miller‘s best plays, but oddly enough, it’s never been as memorable or popular as say The Crucible, or Death of a Salesman. His 1956 tale of an Italian-American whose fondness for his niece borders on obsessive and sordid, would have caused great controversy back in the day.
Nowadays, and from the comfort of the cinema thanks to NT Live, theatre fans can simply enjoy the play’s complexities and stellar performances (albeit a little disconcerted by our own skeletons in the closet).
The Young Vic production is an intense adaptation from Belgian director Ivo van Hove, and despite solid support from the small cast, the success of this play lies ultimately in Mark Strong’s (Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, The Imitation Game) versatile hands.
His Olivier Award-winning turn as Eddie Carbone makes for a riveting spectacle. Strong is magnetic as the protagonist – the longshoreman consumed by his unhealthy love for his beautiful, 18 year-old niece Catherine (Phoebe Fox; A Poet in New York). And when two relatives (Emun Elliott and Luke Norris) arrive from Italy, Carbone’s kindhearted nature is put to the test when one of the brothers takes a liking to Catherine.
Strong strikes a delicate balance between emasculation and domination, as Eddie’s raging jealous begins to rear its ugly head. His accent, mannerisms and reactions are spot-on and effortless. Sometimes he is strictly paternal (“that skirt is a little short isn’t it?”), but then he undermines it all when he caresses Catherine just a little too intimately, or runs his hands along her legs in an otherwise innocent embrace.
One minute you pity Eddie Carbone, the next, you hate him – are disgusted in him – but soon after you find yourself trying to defend him, and each sudden change of heart is a credit to Strong’s instinctive emotional manipulations. At its core, Strong’s interpretation is undeniably authentic – people really do experience a roller coaster of emotions when they are suppressing their fears and desires.
As Carbone’s pillar-of-strength wife Beatrice, Spooks’ Nicola Walker is sassy but secondary in her husband’s eyes. Walker brings bucket loads of likability to her character, and in her intimate scenes with Fox, Beatrice’s wisdom and observations are the catalyst for Catherine’s eventual maturity.
And as the naive Catherine, Phoebe Fox is solid. Her weak Brooklyn accent is distracting at times, but in her heart-pounding scenes with Strong, she shines. Catherine is the perfect problem – girlish, bold and sensual all at once – and when she has to tear herself away from uncle Eddie to spread her wings, her inner conflict is explosive.
Strong’s on-stage chemistry with Fox is palpable, making the blossoming indecency of their characters’ relationship difficult to completely detest – even though you know it’s wrong!
The narrator and lawyer Alfieri (Michael Gould) makes his entrance intermittently, but each time it’s a little jarring. He rattles off full passages from the text, and although it’s a running commentary on Carbone’s anxieties, Strong’s subtleties alone would’ve been enough.
Designer Jan Versweyveld’s set is minimalistic to the max. Empty apart from a few, low bench chairs along the edges, the deliberately drab layout, costume choice and tone can only be compared to the aesthetic of a boxing ring – a metaphor for the conflict set to erupt, including a literal fight in the play’s climax. The space is dynamic and dramatic, with such vastness facilitating moments of silence – at times, you really could cut the atmosphere with knife.
There is also a surprisingly huge amount of humour to be found in A View from the Bridge. Whether it’s Catherine’s fascination that oranges grow on trees in Italy, or Carbone’s disgust at Rodolpho – “he sings?” – there is much laughter to be found amongst the sorrow, particularly in the first half.
Van Hove’s avant-garde influence puts pressure on the actors to nail Miller’s intricate web of character motivations, and it’s a challenge the entire cast rise to. Luke Norris (Poldark, Skins) is great as flamboyant upstart Rodolpho. Despite not being quite convincing as a labourer, or lover for that matter, the taunts and accusations he receives at the hands of Carbone are awful, and Norris’ wide-eyed, bushy-tailed portrayal warrants much sympathy.
The Paradise’s Emun Elliott brings quiet depth to immigrant Marco. He can be funny one moment and terrifying the next, especially in the scene where he lifts a chair with one hand, stylised, muscular and frozen with the poise of an Italian Renaissance sculpture.
This semi-religious tone is echoed by the composition of scenes. Power dynamics are amplified by striking physical presences and arrangements, particularly in the spectacular finale. With their bodies writhing, blood-drenched and intertwined, the moment is almost operatic, dramatised to epic proportions by Tom Gibbons’ choral crescendo soundtrack.
A cinema screening is never going to match the rawness of a live production, but if the aim is to deliver the feel and thematic gravitas of a play, then Ivo Van Hove and NT Live have done just that. With Strong at the helm, A View from the Bridge is a electrifying exploration into our deepest, darkest desires. What’s most frightening is the exposure of this very truth – no matter how much we pretend not to, we all have them!
A View from the Bridge opens tomorrow (May 9) at Cinema Nova and Palace Brighton Bay.