A remarkable view of tragedy

cast of a view from the bridge

Family fortunes: Jonathan Guy Lewis (Eddie) James Rastall (Rodolpho), Teresa Banham (Beatrice) Daisy Boulton (Catherine) and Philip Cairns (Marco)

A view from the bridge

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

****

THE USA in the 1950s was a land of opportunity, a land of milk and honey with streets paved with gold or so it seemed to the dirt-poor immigrants from southern Italy where jobs were as scarce as honest politicians.

Menfolk, particularly from Sickly, were smuggled in illegally on ships to work, staying with relatives, friends or friends of friends, paying off the mob, their travel agents, and sending whatever they could home to their families.

The illegals were known as submarines and many arrived and stayed in Red Hook, the dockland area of Brooklyn, at one time one of the busiest and largest ports in the world, and one of the poorest and worst neighbourhoods in America.

It is here that Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman, or docker, of Sicilian descent, scrapes a living and puts food on the table, most of the time, for wife Beatrice and his 17 year-old orphaned niece Catherine.

We know theirs is to be a tragic tale, we are told so from the very beginning by Mr Alfieri, played with a sort of matter of fact, resignation by Michael Brandon, who acts as a sort of Greek chorus. This is more than a theatrical device though; playwright Arthur Miller, who worked on the same docks for a while, took the basic plot from a lawyer who worked among the longshoremen who swore it was true.

Into their lives come Beatrice’s cousins, Marco, tall, dark, immensely strong and brooding, and Rodolpho, blond, flamboyant, and, dangerous in the manly world of dockers, a little effeminate. Dockers don’t sing, dance, cook or . . . make dresses.

It sounds like a lost verse of I’m a lumberjack, but this is no laughing matter. It sets him apart and ultimately provides the fuse to set off the explosion to come when Rodolpho’s friendship with Catherine grows into dating without first seeking Eddie’s permission.

And it is Eddie’s relationship with Catherine that is central to the whole play. Catherine is a naïve innocent, still a baby, kept that way by her Uncle Eddie. At first it appears he is overprotective partly because of a promise made to his dead sister Nancy, Catherine’s mother, to look after her, and partly the extra protection of a daughter by a father, even if only a surrogate one.

But as the play goes on Eddie's relationship, or aMr Alfieri, played Michael Brandont least how he sees Catherine becomes more suspect, especially where boys are concerned. Catherine has been wrapped in cotton wool, kept at home, away from boys and the world outside, treated, admittedly in a kindly way, like a young child.

Now she is growing into a woman she is no longer Eddie’s little girl any more. Anywhere she goes he sees danger from boys and men and any boy she meets is immediately deemed no good; and that seals the fate of her relationship with Rodolpho even before t starts and, more disturbing, begs the question of where does protection end and jealousy begin.

Michael Brandon as the lawyer helpless to prevent the inevitable disaster he sees unfoling

When Beatrice asks when she is going to be a wife again we realise that all is not well in the marital bed - and hasn’t been for three months; Eddie’s sexual desires, even if suppressed, might well lie elsewhere.

Jonathan Guy Lewis gives a masterful performance as the proud, hard working Eddie, master of his own house, and there is a terrible fasciantion as we chart his gradual descent and breakdown as natural events spark his unnatural reaction until the final, sad inevitable scene.

Eddie, a once decent family man, wracked by anger, jealously, frustration and helplessness, has lost everything, including his reputation. With his life in ruins he wants for just one thing, he wants his name back, something he lost for ever with his fatal act of betrayal. Honour is everything for Eddie and by the end he has none left.

He is balanced by Teresa Banham excelling as Beatrice, at first the loving wife, then attempting gently to release Eddie’s grip on Catherine, such as when she persuades him to allow his niece to leave school and take a well paid clerical job, and then telling him a few home truths as his world falls apart.

Despite everything though he is her husband, and she shows a deep loyalty and love by staying with him even at the end. A loving wife once again commanded by a sense of duty amid the wreckage of their life.

Daisy Boulton gives a fine performance as Catherine, the inexperienced teen, who looks to Eddie as a father, and, because of him, still sees herself as a child until the arrival of Rodolpho who awakens the woman hidden inside her.

James Rastall as Rodolpho and Philip Cairns and Marco give us very different brothers. Marco is brooding, a family man with a wife and three children starving back in Scicily, the eldest child suffering from tuberculosis. He wants work a few years to send money home then return to his family.

Rodolpho, platinum blond, single, fancy free and an outsider in the macho-only world he has entered wants to make a life in America. There are hints he is gay, which, along with his desire to become an American citizen, and marriage is one way to achieve it, all adds fuel to Eddie’s already jealous hatred of Rololpho, or indeed anyone, who tries to take Catherine from hm.

Our ear for American accents is, to a large part, conditioned by US TV series and the American accents sounded authentic New York, and were consistent, while the Italian accents again had a feel of authenticity which all helps make the play more real and build empathy for thedoomed, principal characters.

As a play, aided by Brandon’s commentary as the lawyer, this is a train crash in slow motion, an inevitable tragedy unfolding beautifully before us and despite being almost 60 years old, it premiered in London in 1956, it still has themes that are relavent today.

Liz Ascroft has produced a wonderfully flexible set with ricketty telegraph poles vanishing into the distance beyond a backdrop of a tenement building and its fire escape, setting a scene of run down deprivation.

In front we have a few tables and chairs which provide the Carbone home, the waterfront and Alfieri’s office, which means scenes merge one to another without a pause using Paul Pyant’s lighting as its physical delimiters.

Stephen Unwin’s direction builds the pace and tension to the dramatic final scene. The bridge is the Brooklyn Bridge and the view is not across the East River to Manhattan but backwards and down into the poverty and slums of Red Hook, the view of the audience.

There are certain companies who have earned a reputation for consistently delivering an outstanding production. Touring Consortium Theatre Company is such a company and Miller’s classic can only enhance that reputation. To 28-03-15.

Roger Clarke

24-03-15 

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