Reviews West End & Central Published 20 February 2015

A View From the Bridge

Wyndham's Theatre ⋄ until 11th April 2015

Biblical and sculptural and altogether unexpected.

Mary Halton

Ivo van Hove’s A View From the Bridge is operatic, but intimate. The sense of scale that Van Hove creates, then boxes in to Jan Versweyveld’s fish tank set, where the characters pivot around and square off against each other as though in a boxing ring, is truly remarkable.

Unfortunately, it’s not a case of simply being best viewed close up, but a question of whether it can be viewed at all from further away. Being in only the 11th row of the stalls, an otherwise perfectly good seat in any house in the West End, I found myself somewhat frustrated by the sense that I was watching a very good production, and was just a few rows away from watching a brilliant one. I can only guess how those in the upper reaches of the balcony might have felt. Chance coughs and shuffles a few rows away obliterated entire lines of dialogue. Tom Gibbons’ drums echoed flat and hollow through the large space, sounding more closely parodic of the Birdman soundtrack than anything like the relentless, claustrophobic drip of Chinese water torture it may have resembled at the Young Vic. In fact the whole thing feels like it must be exactly the same production, unceremoniously plonked on a bigger stage. There are good and less good seats in any theatre, and the difficulty of finding a West End venue that serves the needs of a piece created in a much more flexible space is a very real one, but I feel bound to acknowledge that I simply don’t think this production works in a pros arch venue of this size. Or, if there is some retooling that can be done in order to make it work, this hasn’t happened.

That being said (it felt necessary to say), this is such a beautiful production – in fact, ‘fucking’ and ‘beautiful’ turn up a record three times each in my notes – that it pains me to have missed it in its original incarnation. From the frankly reverential, almost holy ceremony of Eddie (Mark Strong) and Louis (Richard Hansell) clothing themselves in the opening moments after a shift at the docks, to that ending, which could be frozen and placed next to the Pietà, so gorgeous an image it forms, there is something at once biblical and sculptural and altogether unexpected about A View From the Bridge. It clads itself in the melodrama of any number of beloved mafia films, but then lays forth with such… honesty, would that be the right word?… that you can’t help but go with it.

For 18 year old Catherine (Phoebe Fox), serving as the lynch pin of the jealousies and desires swirling around her uncle’s household, the journey is conveyed so simply and so perceptively through costume alone – the colourful smudges of youth resolving into the thorny pattern of roses, then the black and white of loss – that it’s impossible not to ache with how meticulously crafted every aspect of this production is.

The law, whether desired or existing, do not seem to serve anyone particularly well, as Eddie at first seeks to protect his wife’s newly arrived Italian cousins from it, then find one that will condemn the younger, Rodolpho (Luke Norris), when he seeks to capture Catherine’s attention – previously held by Eddie and Eddie alone. There’s a building, dreadful intensity to Strong’s performance – his stillness, like a spider, far more frightening than his actions. Michael Gould’s Alfieri narrates Eddie into legend, and from the play’s very opening he is described in reverent tones. Larger than life. Fearful. It must be so easy to play him as a caricature villain, but Strong never ventures in that direction. To the last, Eddie is a person, one that we all know – wilful, proud, determined and, in darker moments, a little terrified of themselves.

Indeed, it is when his desire for Catherine is finally vocalised to him that he truly seems to break, to realise that he is the unnatural thing he has convinced himself he is fighting against; ridding from Catherine’s life in the form of the singing, dancing, blonde Rodolpho. This is when the creeping unease of van Hove’s production comes to the fore, the clinging uncertainty of whether we really have been seeing what we’re seeing, thinking what we’re thinking in a post-Yewtree world slips away. Audible gasps echo from the stalls. The cast’s bare feet look magnified in the perspex base of the set as they puzzle around each other; our realisation becoming theirs…

 A View From the Bridge is a two hour pot coming to the boil, a slow motion train wreck, a car speeding down the hill (no brakes). You have to buy in, from the beginning, to the idea that none of this can possibly end well, that this isn’t a straightforward fight but it’s so beautifully thought out, so well played, that you want to be right there, clinging to the ropes as they circle each other after the last bell. It’s only a pity that the intimacy and intensity of this has been lost in a bigger space.


Mary Halton

Mary is a writer and critic, interested in performance, science and popular culture. By day, she works in radio drama, by night she studies planetary science at Birkbeck, and by dusk and dawn she writes Exeunt's science blog Strangeness + Charm. For Christmas, she would like a timeturner.

A View From the Bridge Show Info

Directed by Ivo van Hove

Cast includes Emun Elliott, Phoebe Fox, Michael Gould, Richard Hansell, Padraig Lynch, Luke Norris, Mark Strong, Nicola Walker.




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