In Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge the setting of 1950s Brooklyn is key, and yet the messages the play carries are universal, crossing time, cultures and geographical boundaries.
Eddie Carbone is a longshoreman who has brought up his orphaned niece Catherine, and grown obsessively attached to her. When he graciously takes in his wife’s two Sicilian cousins who seek work in America to support the elder’s family back home, the younger brother Rodolpho falls in love with Catherine. Eddie opposes the proposed marriage, partly fearing that Rodolpho only craves it so he can stay in America legally, but mainly because he cannot face the thought of Catherine growing up and having another man at the centre of her life.
The consequences of no-one being prepared to compromise are dire, and the moral of the tale rather ambiguous. The idea that it is better to settle for just a portion of what one truly desires is tempered by the notion that truth only rests in standing by one immutable ideal, even if doing so leads to total disaster.
Dutch director Ivo van Hove is renowned for adapting films for stage, and now his presentation of this classic play carries a certain cinematographic air. Presented in the round, with everyone peering into the box-like set from relatively close proximity, the set-up invites us to hone in on people’s faces and gestures rather as film does.
Jan Versweyveld’s bare, illuminated space removes any specific references to squalid flats, bustling streets or dockside noises, but by the same token encourages us to concentrate on the characters’ complexities and vulnerabilities. Much as we may despise Eddie’s defining act we are inclined to see him as a flawed hero; if only he had had the courage to let Catherine go, he could have retained a part of her. Similarly, we can appreciate his sense of pride, and understand how his wife’s inability to understand his needs also contributes to his inflexibility.
A little is lost by the set removing some of the context, which might also have shed light on people’s attitudes and needs, but by stripping things down to their bare essentials Miller’s creation is fully exposed as the Greek tragedy it ultimately is. As we witness rivers of blood flowing freely at the end we appreciate how everyone has had disaster befall them, not just those who have physically died.
From among the excellent cast, which includes Nicola Walker, Phoebe Fox and Luke Norris, the performance of Mark Strong, making a return to the stage after twelve years, stands out as he helps us to sympathise with Eddie to such an alarming degree.
A View from the Bridge is at the Young Vic, 66 The Cut, Waterloo, London SE1 8LZ until 7 June. Tickets: 020 7922 2922 or visit the Young Vic website.
Londonist received a complimentary ticket from the Young Vic press team.