It isn’t often that one goes to see a production and as the final ‘curtain’ falls the audience appear to be engaged in a collective holding of breath, momentarily stunned to silence. This was the case tonight as the Octagon Theatre Bolton launched its Autumn/Winter season with the Arthur Miller masterpiece ‘A View From the Bridge’.
Set in the Italian – American neighborhood of Red Hook in Brooklyn, New York in the 1950s, this tragic play tells the story of Eddie Carbone, an ordinary working man who develops an improper and obsessional love for Catherine, his wife Beatrice’s orphaned niece, and to whom he has been a father figure since her childhood. This obsession is put under unbearable strain when Beatrice’s cousins, Marco and Rodolpho illegally enter the country from their work starved Italy and Catherine and Rodolpho fall in love, with disastrous consequences.
Miller was inspired to write the play during a trip to Europe in the late 1940’s. He visited the Greek Theatre at Syracuse and his Greek Tragedy was born. Using the character of Alfieri as Narrator/Chorus, the Italian raised American lawyer acts as the ‘bridge’ between the two cultures that feature. For the first time, this role is played by a woman and Nancy Crane successfully delivers a performance that calmly, discretely and skillfully guides us through the unfolding disaster. Grey suited and professional, she is ever present. We trust her, we know she speaks truth as she walks through, within and around the action as if in a court room, presenting her case.
Leading the cast as the ruinous Eddie is Jonathan Slinger. He initially presents as everything you would expect a Brooklyn longshoreman to be. He is a good man; dependable, upright, proud, hard-working; he is a loving husband and doting uncle, a proud member of his community and respected workmate. What I found stunning about Slinger’s performance was the descent from the man at the start to the man at the end. He peels away at the layers of his character very gradually and subtly until he is a childlike shell of self-denial. It takes great writing to be able to convey this journey on stage, but it also takes great acting to successfully deliver it and Slinger excels.
Kirsty Bushell as Beatrice, Eddie’s vibrant and loving wife brings great energy and passion to the role. Immediately likeable and engaging, her journey to the final desperate scene is a complex, detailed and accomplished performance.
As Catherine, the object of Eddie’s unhealthy and obsessional love, Rachelle Diedericks delivers an adept interpretation. In Act One she is sweet, charming and playful. A young girl on the brink of womanhood, attempting to find her way, encouraged by the loving and supportive home in which she has been adopted and raised. In Act Two she is a young woman in love for the first time but confused and threatened by the behaviour of her uncle. The physicality and vocal development of her performance is excellent. As Slinger’s Eddie shrinks and shrivels in front of our eyes, Catherine’s strength develops and grows impressively.
Luke Newberry and Tommy Sim’aan as brothers Rodolpho and Marco bring great energy and comradeship to the piece. There is a beautifully expressed contrast between the romantic Rodlopho and the Macho Marco and the fraternal connection is strong. The betrayal they suffer at the hands of Eddie pull us into the multitude of emotions they experience and we are devastated for them.
Supported well by Elijah Holloway and Lamin Touray in minor roles, this is a strong cast and an accomplished company of actors.
Moi Train’s Set and Costume design works very well. Costumes are all shades of the same blue/grey soft denim/cotton that we naturally expect to see on American blue collar workers and contribute well to the sense of place.
The set is a combination of dark smokey brooding spaces, Studio 54 neon lit signage, teak lined walls and an ever-present pendulum-like child’s swing which gently reminds us of the innocence that is being lost. It shouldn’t work but it does.
Director Holly Race Roughan gives us a first-class piece of theatre which is well paced and uses the space and design to great effect. The imagery created is simple and stark yet complex and detailed. It moves from initial industrial grind to final Caravaggio- like tableau impressively. The sounds of the subway drift in and out of the action, cleverly mirroring the psychological state of Eddie. From the opening operatic sampled sounds of ‘Drifting Away’ by Faithless to the final dramatic explosion of Arrigo Boito’s ‘Mefistofele’ the passion and drama of this piece was breathtaking.
My only minor concern about the piece is the balletic interjections, performed beautifully by Elijah Holloway, but unclear as to their meaning and symbolism. Maybe I just missed the point but for me, however stunning they were to watch, I did not understand what message they were trying to convey.
This is a great piece of work. Passionate, visually vibrant, well cast; an excellent production of an excellent play. Whist the audience may have been stunned into silence at the final dramatic moment, their rapturous applause and appreciation came quickly and was well deserved.
Reviewer: Lou Kershaw
Reviewed: 13th September 2023
North West End UK Rating: