A View from the Bridge at Bolton Octagon and on tour – review

Arthur Miller’s classic returns in a new production from Headlong, Octagon Theatre Bolton, Chichester Festival Theatre and Rose Theatre, directed by Holly Race Roughan

A View from the Bridge cast, © The Other Richard
A View from the Bridge cast, © The Other Richard

There’s a trick at the centre of A View from the Bridge that’s designed to stun the room into silence. A man lifts a chair over his head from the floor, by the base of one leg, with a single hand. The actor makes us believe that it’s a feat of superhuman effort. As does his character on stage, in a loaded performance of showboating machismo.

It’s an unsettling view for Eddie, watching his wife’s cousin crystallise his fears around retaining his authority. And it stokes the powder keg of envy towards the cousin and his brother who’s been slowly seducing the niece Eddie adores.

The very first thing we see him do first is grab her waist and grunt. Rachelle Diedericks’s Catherine has just hopped off a swing – ribbon in her hair like the doll in her favourite song – to shower her uncle with kisses, each planted with a coy look. Diedericks never lets us forget Catherine’s youth, skipping on and off the stage, returning in one scene with a match in her mouth like a lollipop.

There’s a subtle similarity to Moi Tran’s costumes, the wife wearing a more conservative, less attractive version of the niece’s dress and heels to illustrate her husband’s perception. Kirsty Bushell also mirrors Catherine’s behaviours – kneeling on the floor after she does; raising her voice to the same shrill pitch – to cleverly suggest the neglected wife’s awareness of her husband’s infatuation.

Tran’s set design provides literal reflections with a mirror-finish floor like the water of the docks. Red neon tubes pulse like veins as blood pressure rises. And the phone always glows as Alfieri warns every step could be anticipated.

It helps the play feel like a thriller and the space like a pressure cooker, smoke constantly eddying on to the stage. Slinger is also always rubbing his head like he’s trying to wipe the steam of the docks. He moves like a piece of machinery from them, chugging as though powered by an engine, heavy and combustible, with coal-black eyes that narrator Alfieri relates to tunnels. He compares himself to a dog, and has the same bullish lunges and jutting jaw.

However, he doesn’t veil Eddie’s jealous animosity towards Rodolpho. It should be something that gnaws away and erupts, but it spews too soon, spitting his slights at him. We should feel agonisingly helpless observing a collision course – echoing Alfieri’sassertions of powerlessness – but it’s overstated for the audience and so transparent for the characters that it’s inexplicable no one objects or intervenes.

Eddie’s latent ambiguous sexuality is also made crudely overt, constantly hallucinating a ballet pirouetting across the stage. Not only does this feel oddly out of place in an otherwise starkly minimalist, unshowy production, but it labours what should be a tensely growing suspicion. It also risks implying his shocking sudden kiss of Rodolpho to be little more than a drunken flash of lust. It’s better conveyed in its subtler moments: delicately correcting Rodolpho’s hair right after roughing him up.

There are quietly chilling moments, too, when he sharks Rodolpho as he sings for Catherine, or watches where his hands sit while he holds her to dance. Disturbing and gripping, it’s a view you can’t look away from.

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A View From the Bridge

Performances begin: 31 October 2023