The green-eyed monster rears its ugly head in A View from the Bridge, Arthur Miller’s brooding tragedy set in a tenement, down near the Brooklyn docks where Ken Stott’s Eddie Carbone shifts cargo for a living. Ruinously, the stevedore is fraught with near-incestuous yearnings. These he struggles to keep under wraps as he watches his ward and niece, Catherine, starting to date Rodolpho – an illegal immigrant whom the Sicilian-American Carbones are sheltering as a family favour.
In Lindsay Posner’s outstanding West End production, the house is a formidable grey monolith, with its roof keeling claustrophobically and a menacing glimpse of grimy drainpipes under the floorboards.
Maybe Miller didn’t quite pull off his intention – to produce a modern equivalent of Ancient Greek drama. The lawyer-narrator, serving as the chorus, gets off to a sticky start and is too obtrusively employed to crank up the emotion at the close, when violent retribution is exacted on Eddie for squealing on Rodolpho to the authorities. Yet in between, this drama holds you in a formidable grip. The issue of how the codes of a community diverge from the laws of the state laws remains pertinent, beyond McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee, which Miller had in mind.
Crucially, Stott is on superb form, giving the performance of a lifetime, with terrific support from wiry Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as his loyal but increasingly aghast wife. Stott’s Eddie is like a pit bull, with his squat body and rounded shoulders. At first, he’s almost the affable family pet, hugged and adored by Hayley Atwell’s curvaceous Catherine. He amusingly upbraids her for “walkin’ wavy” out on the broadwalk, but a fiercer snappiness rapidly surfaces. He clearly expects his womenfolk to toe the line.
As he becomes inexorably obsessed by Catherine and Eddie, you know his bite is going to be horribly worse than his bark. This is also a riveting portrait of a man unable to comprehend or confess to his forbidden urges, channelling his confusion into homophobic insinuations about Harry Lloyd’s blond, gangly Rodolpho. The sense that Stott is about to blow his top is hair-raising.
This staging could hint a little earlier at the possibility that Eddie covertly finds Rodolpho attractive. After all, he determines to prove the boy “ain’t right” with a savage kiss. And Atwell is, arguably, too womanly to suggest Catherine’s fledgling sexuality. But Posner draws out richly complex performances, with each character’s mix of innocence and culpability finely judged. Atwell has just a hint of teenage flirtatiousness, even as she backs off from embracing her uncle with a frown of anxiety or guilt, and Lloyd’s flamboyant Rodolpho manages to be sweetly loving while planting a seed of doubt that he might just be a playboy in need of a passport. Not to be missed.
‘A View from the Bridge' (0870 060 6623) to 16 May