The Maddermarket Theatre home company The Norwich Players head for the intellectual stratosphere in their current production of the Arthur Miller classic A View from the Bridge. Miller like many Americans was from immigrant stock, in his case Polish Jews, but he had a fascination for the stories that emerged from the rough dockside communities of Brooklyn. This is a story about Italian immigrant families, and comes with a bucketload of the cultural values that mean so much when families are spilt and scattered by economic imperatives. Miller was interested by the similarity of a story he picked up to the structure of Greek tragedies, to the inevitability of the outcome that leaves only the question ‘how will this happen’.
The self-set constraints which the playwright chose enhance the dramatic effect, but to contemporary audiences they can result in a frustratingly grim account of human interaction. I was born at about the time this play was first presented, but I still found myself getting a bit irritated with the straitjacket constraints of family, religion, and honour that contrive to interfere with an already difficult tale of a macho father who has raised his orphaned neice, but seems not to want to let her go. The scene is set, this will not be easy.
Director Jez Pike has opted for a presentation that ramps up the tension and drama of the account, with some very particular stylistic devices. A blank screen behind the stage action brings us shadow performances in apparent slow motion to give context to the already complex stage proceedings. Miller’s version of the Greek chorus is the narrator and lawyer Alfieri, played with an intense passion by the slightly disturbing but very focused Greg Lindsay-Smith who wafts in and out of proceedings in various ways but reminds us often of his obsession with both Eddie (Nick Meir) the uncle/father figure and his ward/neice Catherine (Nyree Williams). Panda Monium is captivating as Eddie’s wife Beatrice, who balances her role as his wife with an attempt to get him to recognise that his niece needs to be allowed to become an adult and leave his intensely protective care and devotion. Beatrice has two cousins, Marco and Rodolfo who arrive as illegal immigrants with Eddie’s support to stay with them while they find their feet in America. Marco (Jose Tarouca) has a wife and many children in Italy, whereas his blond brother Rodolfo (Ben Prudence) is single and rather less macho than Eddie might wish. Rodolfo and Catherine soon become more than friends, and the scene is set for trouble.
Whilst the modern ‘academy’ schools adopt pretentious classical names I find little evidence that children are now being taught about classic Greek drama, as I was in a rather bad County Grammar School. This is regrettable as the structure and form of these works give us a very elegant way of looking at the dynamics of human interaction. Had tonight’s production been filmed it would have a validity that would have spoken to audiences several hundred years either way of today. Even if social mores change, we all recognise the patterns that determine behaviour over many generations.
So go and see this masterful production of an Arthur Miller classic which this competent cast present in fine style. It is an engaging and gripping piece of theatre. Some details need work – the musical soundtrack is just too loud and blots out some lines from the cast, particularly Alfieri. But overall this is brave, competent and engaging version of a work that has been presented many times on stage, screen and even in an opera. It will enrage younger audience members who will struggle to accept the paternalistic family attitudes still very prevalent in 1950s Italian diaspora New York where dishonour is worse than death, but for much of the world this is still the way it is. It reminds us very appropriately of the heartless cruelty of those who think that immigration should be resisted or controlled in any way, and the often fatal consequence of such ignorant intolerance.
This play has been well cast with all six principals turning in an exceptionally good performance. Each looks right for the part and their Brooklyn Italian accents never fade or falter. Miller sets each of them a hard task which they do not shrink from. It is the quality of the acting from these six that make this an unmissable theatrical event in Norwich, a fine play for a fine city.
© Julian Swainson 2019
A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller, presented by The Norwich Players at The Maddermarket Theatre is on stage at 7.30pm every evening until Saturday 27th July.
To book: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/maddermarket/a-view-from-the-bridge/e-ellgka