This story of a stevedore’s obsessive love for the niece that he’s raised, and its tragic consequences is a meaty part for any actor (notably Michael Gambon in the 80s at the National) but the play tackles wider themes than the weakness of one man.
Ken Stott’s Eddie Carbone is a man deeply desirous of respect in the community and in the family. He’s taken Iago’s words “He that filches my good name robs me of that which enricheth him not” deeply to heart. Unfortunately, Eddie combines this desire with an Othello-like jealously for anyone who trifles with his niece’s affections, and it is this jealousy that sets him on the road to tragedy.
This is a powerful performance from Stott, the London run earned him many plaudits and you can see why. His Eddie is slowly simmering, coming nicely to the boil in the finally scenes, At the start he walks with the self-confident swagger of the boxer he claims to be and of the well-respected family man that he undoubtedly is. By the end, sitting in the lawyer, Alfieri’s office, he has the demeanour of a cornered animal.
There are equally strong performances from Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Beatrice, the sexually-frustrated wife, who understands Eddie’s obsession better than he can, and Hayley Atwell, as the niece Catherine beautifully captures the dilemma of a woman torn between her lover and her family. There’s a glowering performance too from Gerard Monaco as Beatrice’s cousin Marco, taken in by the Carbone family and ultimately betrayed. There’s a fine set from Christopher Oram and some very atmospheric lighting from Peter Mumford.
But despite the modern themes of respect, sexual obsession, revenge and illegal immigration, there’s something very old-fashioned about this play. It deals with a notion of honour that would seem strange to us. Nowadays, when we’re bombarded by ads exhorting us to grass up dole fiddlers, it’s hard to imagine someone being so ostracised by a community for doing just that. Of course, Miller was not just writing about the Carbone family; he had a broader target in mind when warning of the consequences of snitching.
Posner’s production emphasises the personal tragedy. Eddie brings about his own downfall and Stott perfectly captures the soul of a man trapped by behaviour that he can’t, won’t, modify.
- Maxwell Cooter