Friday, July 26, 2019

A View from the Bridge

A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller.  Red Line Productions at Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, July 24 – August 24, 2019.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 24

Director – Iain Sinclair; Set Designer – Jonathan Hindmarsh; Costume Designer – Martelle Hunt; Lighting Designer – Matt Cox, Associate – James Wallis;  Sound Designer – Clemence Williams, Associate – Dana Spence; Dialect Coach – Nick Curnow; Fight Director – Scott Witt

Eddie Carbone – Anthony Gooley; Catherine – Zoe Terakes; Beatrice – Janine Watson; Louis & Various – Giles Gartrell-Mills; Marco – David Soncin; Rodolpho – Scott Lee; Alfieri – David Lynch

David Lynch as Alfieri
A View from the Bridge

Photos by Prudence Upton

You know when you’ve got your Arthur Miller right when, at the final blackout, a deep overwhelming silence fills the theatre full with a feeling of loss and an awful sense of waste.

Though the characters are fictional and the setting is not yours personally, you know the tragedy is real.  Director Iain Sinclair and his team of actors and designers have achieved perfection in their A View from the Bridge.

An absent friend, the founder of the Ensemble Theatre, Hayes Gordon, must never be forgotten for his creation of this little theatre-in-the-round – so appropriately in this boatshed on the Kirribilli wharf, which I so often look down on from the over-arching Sydney Harbour Bridge, before eating at the migrant Italian Kirribilli Village Café. 

It may be a lot more up-market than “the scene in the docks of Red Hook, a working-class part of Brooklyn” but I’ll bet there are stories about escaping to freedom in a new country, about cultural conflict, about the tentacles of family obligations – and there’ll be lawyers like Alfieri, sincerely trying to help prevent the worst from happening in the face of legal, social and political reality; maybe often working pro bono for Amnesty International. 

I feel self-conscious – as a migrant myself who still remembers struggling through unpleasantly officious customs on Pyrmont 13 wharf in 1955, the year Miller wrote A View from the Bridge – knowing how lucky I have been to enjoy the kind of life that Catherine and Rodolpho hope for, and even Beatrice can imagine for them, but will never happen now that her husband Eddie Carbone could never let his niece have her freedom; and is now dead by the hand of her cousin, Marco, in a fight for honour.

I have often wondered how Arthur Miller, born in 1915 in Harlem, NY, with such a British sounding name, could identify so closely with Italian dockworkers and the fears of migrating illegally.  But his own parents ‘of Polish and Jewish descent’ may well have faced the same kinds of desires and fears – and then “lost their successful coat manufacturing business in the Wall Street Crash of 1929”, and “had to move from Manhattan to Flatbush, Brooklyn”, which looks down on Red Hook. 
[ ]

Obviously, the anti-immigration politics of our day make this play even more significant, perhaps, than in 1955.

So let’s look at how Sinclair and Co broke the rules to make this work so telling.  Iain Sinclair is not the first to do something like what Laura Barnett describes in her review in The Guardian (April 13, 2014): Here, in his first production for London's Young Vic, Van Hove turns his talent for reappraisal to Arthur Miller's claustrophobic 1955 tale of a Brooklyn longshoreman, Eddie Carbone, and his obsession with his niece, Catherine. The effect is startling.

The most daring decision taken by Van Hove and his designer, Jan Versweyveld, is to dispense with Miller's precise stage directions (this was a playwright whose notes to his actors and directors were often as poignant and exacting as his dialogue). The production opens not on a Red Hook tenement, but with a stark black box that lifts to reveal a bare thrust stage, bordered by a low Perspex wall.

But in the Ensemble Theatre, with “two lighting effects, two props [and] one chair”, we are not outside peering in at  a stark black box.  We are in-the-round, in the box, with Alfieri surreptitiously watching us from near A15 as we dribble down to fill the few rows of seats in this compact 200 seat space:

As we hushed seemingly to no obvious signal, Alfieri took the chair towards centre and began to speak to us.  In B26 it seemed he spoke directly to me.  I remained, attention locked in, for 2 hours without interval.  People usually quote Peter Brook’s The Empty Space at this point, but Iain Sinclair, referring to Jerzy Grotowski, writes “We created a show firmly in the ‘poor theatre’ aesthetic following Lope de Vega’s dictum that all great theatre needs is actors, a stage and some passion”.

And passion is what we got:

Anthony Gooley as Eddie Carbone

Janine Watson as Beatrice

Scott Lee as Rodolpho, David Soncin as Marco

Zoe Terakes as Catherine, with Anthony Gooley

Anthony Gooley and Janine Watson

Zoe Terakes as Catherine with Scott Lee as Rodolpho
Anthony Gooley and Janine Watson

Zoe Terakes and Scott Lee

Giles Gartrell-Mills as Louis, with Anthony Gooley as Eddie Carbone

L:R Scott Lee, Janine Watson, David Soncin, Zoe Terakes, Anthony Gooley
Rodolpho, Beatrice, Marco, Catherine, Eddie Carbone
A View from the Bridge

You have until August 24 to see A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller at Ensemble Theatre, Sydney.

David Lynch as Alfieri
A View from the Bridge