A View From The Bridge was written over half a century ago, but its themes of immigration, betrayal and personal torment have lost none of their power. Arthur Miller’s classic play was written in the mid-1950s, as the playwright was embarking on an affair with Marilyn Monroe, as well as being hounded by the anti-communist investigators in the House of Un-American Activities. Set in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, it tells the story of Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman who lives with his wife Beatrice and niece Catherine, who he’s brought up as his own since she was orphaned. When two of Beatrice’s cousins arrive from Italy in search of work, and one in particular takes a shine to Catherine, some long-repressed feelings stir within Eddie, to ultimately tragic effect.
Sarah Frankcom’s direction sucks the audience brilliantly into this world in both the hugely atmospheric opening scene on the docks, teeming with extras, and in the more intimate scenes in the Carbone living room; she lets Miller’s dialogue and the intense performances speak for themselves. James Cotterill’s set design is minimal, to say the least; but this isn’t a play that needs opulent visuals – this is very much an actor’s play and Frankcom has chosen her cast wisely.
Con O’Neill utterly embodies Eddie Carbone, growing increasingly more tortured as the play goes on. Eddie has the potential to be an extremely unsympathetic character (he is, after all, harbouring incestuous thoughts about his niece) but as his humour and swagger in the first half gradually disappear to be replaced by doubt and self-loathing, you can’t help but sympathise with his plight. Impressively, O’Neill’s accent never wavers either, the Wigan-born actor perfectly nailing the Brooklyn drawl.
Anna Francolini is equally impressive as Beatrice, dealing with her husband’s unravelling and trying to balance her jealousy of Catherine with her wish to protect her. Often, what’s left unvoiced is as powerful as the lines spoken, and Francolini does a fine job in demonstrating that her heart is breaking with a single wounded look. Leila Mimmack is also strong as Catherine, showing a maturity that makes it hard to believe she’s just 18 years old, while the veteran actor Ian Redford adds suitable gravitas as Alfieri the Lawyer, acting as the narrator/Greek chorus figure. Nitzan Sharron and Ronan Raftery sometimes go over the top with their Italian accents, but that doesn’t mar either performance, and Raftery is perfectly cast as Rodolpho, the European charmer who sings, dances and makes dresses; it is Rodolpho who Catherine falls for, and who Eddie decides “isn’t quite right”.
Miller restructured his original 1955 play from an one-act verse drama to a more formally conventional two-act play, and Frankcom’s production demonstrates why that was such a necessary move. The first act is full of humour, setting up the characters and drawing the audience deeply into their lives. It’s only as things begin to unravel towards the end of the first act that you realise how emotionally invested you are in this family’s journey, and this makes the events of the second act that much more devastating. It remains one of the few plays I’ve seen that is capable of drawing audible gasps of shock and surprise from its audience.