Jessica Hope reviews Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, on at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol, until 12 May
If you took the key elements of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, you’d have the ultimate recipe for a Greek tragedy: the dramatic downfall of a character, disputes around pride, moments of comedy, family conflict, fatal endings. But this isn’t Ancient Greece. This is 1950s Red Hook, on the docks of Brooklyn, New York, in a community made up of both legal and illegal immigrants looking to make a living and maybe get a pinch of the American Dream.
Miller, arguably one of the greatest dramatists of the 20th century, first staged this play in 1955. It follows the story of longshoreman Eddie Carbone, who works hard on the docks to provide for his wife Beatrice and raise his niece, 17-year-old Catherine. Following the arrival of Beatrice’s cousins Marco and Rodolpho, illegal Italian immigrants looking for work, the family scenario is immediately disrupted, desires are revealed, and a community is broken … all leading to catastrophic consequences.
This is artistic director Mike Tweddle’s first production for the Tobacco Factory, and is the second production of the Factory Company’s inaugural season. Tweddle has included the Tobacco Factory Theatres’ Get On Stage community company (26 adults aged 20-70, most of whom have never been on stage before) as part of the ensemble, performing alongside the professional actors in smaller roles such as neighbours and colleagues – an important addition as the play heavily deals with the notion of community.
The all-encompassing seating of Tobacco Factory Theatres is the ideal setting for a portrayal of a play that intensely explores the themes of family loyalty, love and betrayal. With the audience surrounding the stage, you are instantly drawn into this 1950s domestic setting, witnessing each and every side of the characters as the drama develops.
Mark Letheren is exactly how you imagine Eddie Carbone to be: suspicious, unshaven, and resolute in his beliefs, but also unwavering in his admiration for his niece. This we see when he reveals a softer side as he comes to terms with the fact that he should let Catherine accept the job to be a stenographer in the first act. Letheren’s confused romantic interest in his niece is subtly played out, unsettling the audience while not overemphasising his darker feelings too much.
Katy Stephens is quick, engaging and compassionate as Beatrice, delivering some of the most amusing but also the most potent lines of the production. In the final scenes of the play, her powerful delivery of the line: “You want somethin’ else, Eddie, and you can never have her!” had members of the audience gasp at her infuriated honesty. She perfectly executes the dilemma of choosing between her husband and retaining her (and Eddie’s) respect within the neighbourhood, or encouraging Catherine to find her own path.
In her professional debut, Laura Waldren as Catherine skilfully transforms from the girl who harbours all the respect in the world for her uncle, to an exasperated young woman who isn’t afraid to spit “He’s a rat! He belongs in the sewer” at Eddie after some unforgivable actions come to surface.
Aaron Anthony is sincere as Marco – calm and collected until the ultimate betrayal leads to a very poignant performance that sees him outing Eddie in the streets – while Joseph Tweedale is charming, honest and endearing as Rodolpho.
Simon Armstrong, meanwhile, is excellent as lawyer Alfieri, moving between being the play’s candid narrator and social commentator, to being Eddie’s only confidant, determined to help him choose the right path.
Anisha Fields’ simple yet effective set design means that the cast can move swiftly from Eddie’s family home to the dockyard of New York within moments, and Matthew Graham’s careful use of lighting emphasises the increasing drama unfolding between the characters and their actions.
Gripping, provocative, and intensely moving, Tweddle’s production carefully explores the difficult, dark themes of this 20th-century tragedy which is as pertinent today as it was in the 1950s.
Image: Mark Dawson Photography