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Review: A View From the Bridge (York Theatre Royal)

Arthur Miller's tragedy is revived in York

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Lili Miller (Catherine), Nicholas Karimi (Eddie) and Pedro Leandro (Rodolpho)
© Ian Hodgson

Arthur Miller's great social dramas of the 1950s are clearly as powerful and relevant today as ever they were – so long as we have productions that get to their emotional and intellectual hearts. The Young Vic's acclaimed Death of a Salesman has just transferred to the West End and now there is this superlative version of A View from the Bridge, a co-production of York Theatre Royal and Northampton Royal and Derngate.

However, while the Young Vic's Death of a Salesman gains universality by making Willie and Linda Loman an African-American couple, Juliet Forster produces a wonderfully vibrant performance by pretty much leaving things as Miller wrote them, a dynamic re-telling which agonisingly strips the layers of normality from the characters, notably Eddie.

Her one innovation – which works totally – is to have a community ensemble of over a dozen local actors. A View from the Bridge is especially well suited to this. There are only six real characters, but the cast list stretches out with Eddie's workmates, neighbours and their relations, and immigration officers. Three members of the main cast take some of these, with doubling, but the community ensemble picks up the wordless and creates a real sense of – what else? – community.

The main story-line is so cleverly plotted that it seems inevitable. Indeed Miller originally wrote the play as a one-act where the narrative arc would resemble a Greek tragedy – and probably the tragedy is inevitable, given that Eddie is purely himself, "known wholly", with no defence between his feelings and his actions.

The domestic tragedy unfolds around the gradual revelation of Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie's desire for his 17 year-old niece Catherine and his multiple reasons for hating and despising illegal immigrant and extended family member Rodolpho: Rodolpho has blond hair, sings in a high voice, is not a real man, is stealing Catherine just to get a passport, etc. There is the occasional surprise, but mainly the audience is transfixed by the certainty of what comes next, a certainty emphasised by the narrator/commentator Alfieri.

Without any updating, the themes are disconcertingly contemporary. When Rodolpho's brother Marco insists, "Not all the law is in a book", there was a sharp intake of breath from the audience. Themes of honour, honesty and the rule of law, not to mention the underlying subject of immigration, are so 2019 it's almost embarrassing.

Forster keeps it – apparently – simple in Rhys Jarman's staircases/living room/all-purpose space set. But there's nothing simple in the way she – and the actors – delineate the tension between superficial behaviour patterns and the layers that lie beneath.

Nicholas Karimi's Eddie seems almost too normal at first – he's the sort of guy his mates go bowling with – but his out-of-control explosions are riveting, the more so because we can sense that he knows that he has destroyed his life, but has to go on with it. Lili Miller (Catherine) and Laura Pyper (Beatrice) pace their emergence with similar skill, from sweet compliance to telling it how it is. Reuben Johnson's Marco, the decent guy who is bound by an inconvenient code of honour, and Pedro Leandro, making the most of all the ambiguities of Rodolpho, are totally convincing. The character of Alfieri, the lawyer, is an inspired idea of Miller's, the link between Red Hook and the outer world, the man who believes in the law, and Robert Pickavance's troubled urbanity is perfect for the role.

The greatest tribute I can pay to Forster's production is that I spent the evening in awe of Arthur Miller's achievement.