This is the story of "A View From the Bridge", written by one of the giants of 20th century literature in the mid 1950s - Arthur Miller, and the bridge is the world famous Brooklyn Bridge. Do not let the title fool you as this is not a scenic view from the bridge looking at the great skyscrapers of Manhattan or blue skies, but looking right down onto the docks and shipyards of Red Hook. In the 1940s, Miller himself had worked on the docks and seen with his own eyes the working conditions of the workers. This was where many immigrants had come over the years for a better life (many of them Italian), but the life they experienced was if they could find work of long hours, low pay, no union protection, gang and mafia control and poor housing conditions. It is against this backgound that we are introduced to Longshoreman (a labourer who unloaded the cargo ships plus any other work available) Eddie Carbone and his immediate family - his wife Beatrice and his niece Catherine whom he has raised as his own since a child. Family life however starts to take a sharp turn for the worse as Beatrice awaits the arrival of two cousins from Italy. Beatrice's cousins Marco and Rodolpho are arriving though as smuggled into the USA illegal immigrants.
The story of Eddie and his family is opened tonight by local lawyer Alfieri (Michael Brandon) as events take some darker turns that require first of all his advice and then later professional aid. Michael Brandon gets to play a very gentle character role here and does it very well. As a lawyer representing "The Law" he is not entirely trusted by his fellow Italians and they often have trouble understanding that the traditional ways of settling something are not the ways of their new country. People turn to him for advice and help, but pretty much as a last resort.
Jonathan Guy Lewis plays the central character tonight of Eddie Carbone. Eddie is second generation Italian / American and, unlike many of the people working around him, is an American citizen. This gives him no protection however from the harsh working conditions of low pay and long hours when he can find work and no choice but to live in poorer housing. In fact, work for the illegal immigrants is often easier to find as the gangs that bring them into the country find them the work so that they can pay off their debts to them incurred getting into the USA. Eddie is a proud man who has always worked as hard as possible to provide for his wife Beatrice (Teresa Banham) and his niece Catherine (Daisy Boulton).
Jonathan Guy Lewis puts in a wonderful character performance here as a proud man who is having some major personal issues even before the arrival of his wife's cousins. He is very protective of his niece who is now a beautiful young woman of 17 about to enter the workplace. If he was honest with himself (which he is not), Eddie would have to admit that there is an attraction to his niece that is becoming uncomfortable for him and his wife. When Catherine pretty much falls under the charms of cousin Rodolpho (James Rastall) when he arrives, Eddie starts to have a major life crisis as he feels that he is losing Catherine and the respect that he is due in his household, workplace and community. The wonderful script by Arthur Miller may put into words what is happening to Eddie, but it is the skills of Jonathan as an actor that bring the character to full life on the stage.
Much of the story here revolves around Eddie's relationship with his wife Beatrice and his niece Catherine. Beatrice gives us a nice study of the typical Italian family wife of the period. She does not work and looks after the home. It is Beatrice who is noticing more than anyone how Eddie is changing towards his niece and who is trying to get Catherine to recognise that she is now a grown woman. Beatrice is also completely loyal to Eddie and in a difficult choice later on stands by the wishes of her husband.
Daisy Boulton as Catherine is on great form too as the young woman who has not quite realised the effect that she is starting to have on Eddie and the other men around her. She can not understand why her sometimes childish innocent actions with her uncle are becoming inappropriate now. Daisy also gently handles her attraction to Rodolpho and the changes that this caused between her and her devoted uncle.
Rodolpho is the last thing anyone expected from an Italian coming to work illegally on the docks. He is blonde, slim, loves singing, cooking and can make dresses. Eddie is concerned that Rodolpho is homosexual and absolutely unfit for his niece and that his status in the workplace of continual jokes and innuendo is reflecting on him personally. James Rastall does great work with this character and takes care not to overdo the more feminine side of Rodolpho. Rodolpho's brother Marco (Philip Cairns) could not however be more different and is a big and enormously strong man that Eddie at first finds acceptance of as a man. There are further differences between the two brothers too. Marco wants to work and send money back to his family until he is financially stable enough to return home to Italy. Rodolpho however has no intentions of ever going back. He wants to become an American citizen
The story unfolds as a very tight family drama that is as relevant today as it was when it was written nearly 60 years ago. There are some twists to the tale that you need to see for yourself.
This is just a perfect piece of theatre performed mostly by a small central cast of very talented actors bringing to life a play written by a gifted writer who gives the characters more than enough detail for the cast to work with. Arthur Miller is one of those rare writers who notices the small details about people and their surroundings, and when you have a script like that to start with and a very good cast, the result is just a great night at the theatre.
This is theatre magic at its best. A great script, great acting, and a very good set (designer Liz Ascroft). It is not often that all the elements of a stage production come together like this, but they do in this production.
Having the on screen captioning working at either side of the stage tonight was also a great bonus, and I know my companion for tonight greatly appreciated this at times. It is the extra thought to things like this at a theatre that make an evening out more accessible and enjoyable for everyone in the audience.
Review by Tom King