Review: A View from the Bridge, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

I swear I recall theatre director John Dove telling me that his previous Arthur Miller production for the Lyceum (The Price, which was staged exactly a year ago) would be his last. I didn’t entirely believe him at the time, and even he didn’t sound completely convinced.

   No-one should be surprised that Dove is back, directing his fifth Miller piece for the Edinburgh playhouse, in the shape of A View From The Bridge, a great classical tragedy of love, desire and the transgression of natural laws. Dove, Miller and the Lyceum make for the perfect theatrical triangle. There is something about Miller’s dramas, with their Aristotelian structure and moral resolution, which sits particularly well at the Lyceum. In turn, Dove presents the work of, perhaps, the greatest American dramatist in precisely the way that the Lyceum demands.  

   The Lyceum is, in many ways, a quintessentially British repertory theatre. As any continental European theatregoer will tell you, by comparison with the “director’s theatre” which prevails from Moscow to Madrid, theatre in the UK treats classical texts (be they ancient, Renaissance or modern) with a decided reverence. Indeed, in this regard, the mainstream British stage has more in common with its American cousin (especially where the American classics are concerned) than it does with the more experimental approach favoured in Europe. Not for us (most of the time) the self-confident revisionism of the likes of Polish director Krystian Lupa, whose current production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame for Spanish company Teatro de La Abadía cures the limping Clov of his walking impediment and transforms him into a woman.

   Dove is no Lupa. As he did with the four Lyceum Millers which preceded it, he directs A View From The Bridge by the book. Time, place, character and, depending on the varying capacities of the actors, accent are exactly as Miller originally intended. Like Lindsay Posner’s strong presentation of this play, starring Ken Stott, (which played at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal in 2009), there are no real surprises in a Dove Miller, unless, of course, like the woman sitting near me on opening night (who gasped loudly at a key moment in the drama), you are unfamiliar with the play itself.

   The director’s aversion to iconoclasm is no bad thing, and his production compares well with Posner’s. His respect for Miller is matched absolutely by his understanding of the plays. Like the lawyer Alfieri (who is both the narrator and the chorus of A View From The Bridge) one senses that Dove shares Miller’s sympathy and, even, love for the tragic hero, Eddie Carbone, the Italian-American longshoreman whose infatuation with Catherine, the niece he has raised like a daughter, collapses his life like a house of cards.

   Save for his working-class origins, Carbone could be the protagonist of a drama from antiquity. A veritable physical colossus, he is tortured by an emotional and sexual compulsion. Following the illegal migration to New York of two men from his wife’s Sicilian family, and the ensuing love affair between the youngest migrant, Rodolpho (Gunnar Cauthery), and  Catherine (Kirsty Mackay), his obsession forces him to act against the most inviolable of unwritten laws.

   Such a character requires careful casting, and Dove has, in Stanley Townsend, a superb Carbone. From the outset the actor encapsulates the rough physicality, avuncular tenderness and terrible, almost subconscious drive of the man. As he ploughs toward his doom, like a determined bull, he is (and this is the essence of his tragedy) fighting not only against the mores of his community, but also against his own personal morality.

   The flip-side to the distorted paternalism of Carbone’s fixation on Catherine is the emotional and sexual neglect of his wife, Beatrice. Like Townsend’s Carbone, Kathryn Howden’s playing of the docker’s spouse is a beautifully calibrated study in internal conflict. Although dutiful and domestic, in the image of an early-20th century longshoreman’s wife, she protests Eddie’s negligence and warns Catherine of her sexual naivety with a tremendous moral urgency. Catherine herself is played excellently by Mackay, the wide-eyed excitement of her sudden maturing giving way to a powerfully contrasting rage.

   Like the central performances, Michael Taylor’s set and costume designs are textbook transatlantic Miller; even if the handsome stage revolve does manage, on a slightly accident prone opening night, to cause the fine actor Liam Brennan (Alfieri) to lose his footing at one point. Spare a thought, too, for Howden, whose Beatrice broke a heel towards the end of the performance, forcing her to take to the street in the final scene in her stocking feet.

   Accidents aside, however, this is another heartfelt, faithful and stylish Lyceum Miller. Nor is it necessarily the last Edinburgh audiences have seen of John Dove. He still hasn’t presented, arguably, Miller’s magnum opus, The Crucible.

A View From the Bridge runs until February 12

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 23, 2011

© Mark Brown

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