A View from the Bridge, Duke of York's, London
Raw pain in vintage Miller
Tuesday 10 February 2009
Of the earth, earthy. Of the flesh, fleshy. You can feel the grease dripping off Ken Stott as Arthur Miller's troubled longshoreman Eddie Carbone, a rolling Punch-nosed punchbag of a doomed docker whose smouldering affection for his own niece is fanned into flames by the arrival of two illegal Sicilian immigrants from the old country.
One of them falls for Catherine; the other challenges his manhood. On the sidelines, his wife grieves for their increasingly loveless marriage. No wonder Miller framed his story in the choric remembrance of a local lawyer, Alfieri, who invokes the green scent of the sea and the cliff tops at Syracuse in his opening speech: this is the sexually inverted Brooklyn version of Phaedra's destructive passion for Hippolytus.
This mythic dimension never overwhelms the human mystery. Unlike Phaedra, Eddie simply never understands what is happening to him, and Stott's performance is so real, so puzzled – he even makes the decisive phone call to the immigration authorities in a trance – that you never once despise him for his outbursts of domestic violence; his plight is expressed in his stuttering demotic language, beautifully summoned by Stott in contrast to the smooth, civilised paragraphs of Allan Corduner's placid Alfieri.
Stott could easily have stepped out of the great black-and-white movie On the Waterfront, exactly contemporary with A View from the Bridge (and coincidentally revived in stage form this week in London by Steven Berkoff). Whereas Elia Kazan's movie had the jazzy music of Leonard Bernstein in the background (you can just hear West Side Story lurking), Lindsay Posner's superbly in-period production has an evocative rumbling soundscore by Adam Cork and a monumental design by Christopher Oram that creates the smoky grey streets of a dockland slum around the cramped apartment revealed on the struts of a dockland jetty.
The Italian cousins are due to stay a couple of weeks, but that becomes months just as Catherine is ready to flee the nest, first in a job as a stenographer and secondly as a woman falling in love. This build-up of tension, masterfully handled by Miller, erupts when Eddie, drunk on a Christmas bottle of whiskey, staggers home early to find Catherine and Rodolpho alone in the apartment.
The play fell foul of the censor – Peter Brook's 1956 British premiere was given in "club" conditions – not because Eddie kissed and shamed his niece, but because he also assaulted Rodolpho with oscular proof of what he considers his "not being right". Stott carries off this bestial, lurching double whammy with frightening belligerence, roaring like a man both possessed and suddenly dispossessed.
He also has to battle with memories of Michael Gambon's greatest ever stage performance in this role at the National more than 20 years ago. He does so valiantly, supported all the way by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as his abandoned wife, Hayley Atwell as the Eva Marie Saint of Red Hook, and Harry Lloyd as the charming, carefree Sicilian immigrant whose Mediterranean sexuality challenges Eddie's limited emotional experience. A great play in an outstanding revival.
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