Saturday 28th September 2019 at York Theatre Royal.
Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge is a brilliant, intensely gripping play and with an impeccable performance like Nicholas Karimi’s at its centre, this is an outstanding production wholly worthy of its source material.
A haunted lawyer (Robert Pickavance) narrates, recalling this tale with gravity and many a dark warning. To begin, Eddie works on the docks. He lives a simple life, hand to mouth mostly, surviving the weeks without work through sheer grit and determination. He’s taken in his orphaned niece Catherine (Lili Miller) and with his wife Beatrice (Laura Pyper), the pair work hard to get by. All arrows point to him as a good man.
Within this community, immigrants come and go illegally and get help where they can. Eddie takes in two new arrivals – Beatrice’s distant cousin Marco (Reuben Johnson) and Rodolpho (Pedro Leandro), taking blankets from his own bed to provide for the strangers. The pair make an instant impression and what begins as a gesture of good will soon becomes a torment Eddie could not have foreseen.
Against the masculine backdrop of the Brooklyn docks and the domestic backdrop of a hardworking home, our characters each struggle to settle within the confines of their roles. Lili Miller is excellent as the infantilised Catherine, all innocence about all things until she has to be otherwise and Miller crafts the arc of revelations and rude awakenings beautifully. Pyper strikes a fine balance between self-serving and self-preservation as the hard done by wife of a temperamental man unable to see his own truth. Her performance is a constant display of quelled fight or flight instinct and it’s riveting to watch. To the mix is added the emphatically noble Marco, played with a silent but powerful presence by Johnson and the overtly ‘different’ Rodolpho.
Leandro gives an endearingly sincere performance and quickly makes us take Rodolpho to heart. He’s charming and at once both child-like and all grown up and ready for the world. It’s very hard to listen to the titters of a contemporary audience though without thinking about how such a character would have been received in ‘55. Eddie’s objections must surely have a different tone to them here compared to the first production but the difference also presumably adds an intriguing lighter layer to proceedings – no bad thing considering the general unrelenting intensity.
Karimi gives an intense, raw performance as the complex Eddie. It’s a role which demands explosive rage, pained contemplation and a sense of deep internal turmoil. That’s a tall order indeed and Karimi is absolutely brilliant, gripping our wrists and holding us in place for the duration as he shows us the humanity and the horrors of a man like Eddie. In a place considered ‘gangland’, the community he lives in is insular and robustly united in a silent code of conduct founded in ideas of loyalty and principles. The problematic nature of unspoken indicators of honour provide the catalyst for much of the drama here, but the rocky domestic relationships carry equally flammable materials – with such pressures from all angles pressing down on a man already suffocating in his own internal turmoil, there’s no way out except into dangerous confrontations.
The play explores a great many probing themes which have inevitable resonance within our current social and political climate. Immigration is central. Attitudes towards those who are ‘different’ are examined closely. The family unit is unconventional but recognisable…until it isn’t. And rigid expectations of men would certainly fall into the ‘toxic masculinity’ category while expectations of women are loudly familiar. Each element finds its way beneath the microscope either explicitly or implicitly throughout and thanks to designer Rhys Jarman, the fact that Brooklyn is indicated rather than stated allows for a subtle sense of timelessness and universality to really take hold.
Director Juliet Forster drives the action forward with pace but with mindful lulls as circumstances escalate towards the final dramatic moments. It’s the constant probing and ambiguity which makes this play so intriguing, holding us hostage as we navigate the clues and still come up with theories rather than conclusions. There’s no room for stagnation and time drops away as the production moves blisteringly onwards – it’s one of the few dramas I’ve felt wholly justified its running time, and that’s high praise from me!
This is an exceptional production in which the tension builds and bubbles and bursts spectacularly at the hands of an accomplished cast and particularly, a brilliant central performance. Although A View from the Bridge was first staged in 1955, it feels as relevant and gripping as a page turner hot off the press. This is probably the best drama I’ve seen outside of London this year in fact, so catch it before it departs if you can.
A View from the Bridge is a York Theatre Royal and Derngate, Northampton co-production. It plays York Theatre Royal until 12th October 2019 and you can find tickets here.