A View from the Bridge (Wyndham's Theatre) – a 'thrillingly rendered' production

Ivo van Hove’s celebrated production transfers to the West End

Mark Strong and the company of A View from the Bridge
Mark Strong and the company of A View from the Bridge
© Jan Versweyveld

It feels odd to be marking Arthur Miller‘s 100th birthday with a tale that could be ripped from today’s headlines, but life has caught up with A View From the Bridge – or perhaps our awareness of its darker recesses has just grown more acute. Irrational prejudice, illicit fumblings, homophobia with a whiff of repressed desire, betrayal, hysteria, self-destruction… director Ivo van Hove places all these and more under his microscope.

Literally so, it seems, as the audience peers in from three sides on designer Jan Wersweyveld‘s aseptic stage. Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone is gradually undone by his lack of self-knowledge until once-devoted niece Catherine calls him a rat in a sewer. To the audience, as his jealousy is laid bare, he’s more a rat in a lab.

The Young Vic has regathered its forces from last year’s triumphant staging to bring A View From the Bridge across the Thames. The view from the Wyndham's auditorium is necessarily compromised by the proscenium arch, but even this turns to the production’s advantage as an additional onstage audience, banked on either side of the performing area, intensifies the visual concept.

"The guy ain’t right" is all Eddie will say about Catherine’s suitor Rodolpho, when it’s clear to everyone else that it’s him who 'ain’t right'. He is one of literature’s sensitive brutes and Mark Strong‘s ferocious, tortured performance brings out all his paradoxes. Eddie, who hasn't touched his wife in months, is tender and tactile with his niece in ways that border on the inappropriate; yet, as Strong plays him, he'd rage at any suggestion that he has what we now call 'issues'.

Versweyveld’s lighting bends painfully with Eddie’s mood while looped samples from Fauré’s Requiem hang as a deathly portent over the play’s every moment. Miller’s stage directions are swept away: there is no tenement and nowhere to hide on the bare stage from the opening moment when a semi-naked Strong is revealed, scrubbed and germ-free and ready to be anatomised.

The forensic thought that van Hove brings to the play is thrillingly rendered by an ensemble cast that includes Luke Norris and Emun Elliott as Rodolpho and Marco, the illegal immigrants whom Eddie and his spurned wife Beatrice (Nicola Walker, superb in expressing her character’s conflicted loyalties) welcome into their home.

As the lawyer-shrink-narrator Alfieri, Michael Gould is an ever-present observer who carefully removes his unsterile shoes before entering the observation-tank stage. He reconciles his role’s ambiguities by projecting an imposing authority both as Eddie’s counsellor and as the audience’s intimate.

Phoebe Fox convinces utterly as a young girl whose sensuality is innocently playful to her but disturbing both to Eddie and, probably, to the audience, and she probes every line of the text for nuance and rhythmic insight. Miller almost certainly saw Rodolpho as the drama’s catalyst; in van Hove’s extraordinary production, thanks to Fox, it is Catherine.

A View From the Bridge runs at Wyndham's Theatre until 11 April 2015