As with all the many Lloyd Allington productions I have seen over the years, this powerful play came with his trademark elements – an evocative and meaningful set, an arresting opening, a word-perfect cast utterly convincing in their interpretation and accents and always acting, clearly-defined and often poignant contrasts of mood and timing, and an occasional shock for the audience; an experience in which one was fully engrossed, from which one learned more about human nature, which emphasised once again the remarkable talent and potential of these young actors realised under his direction, providing a truly memorable evening.
A View from the Bridge tells the fateful story of Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman making a hard-earned and precarious living in the docks of the Red Hook district of Brooklyn, his loyal wife, Beatrice (Bea) and seventeen-year-old niece, Catherine, whom they have brought up, as their household and lives are changed by the arrival of two of Bea’s cousins, Marco and Rodolfo, illegal immigrants from Sicily.
Miller (1915-2005), the son of Jewish Polish immigrants who lost their money in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, uses a setting in which he personally lived and a format which mirrors the roots of Western Drama in the great Greek tragedies of the 5th Century BC: Eddie – Miller’s anti-hero – has a failing – in this case he falls in love with his blossoming niece – which, amidst the environment of their tiny flat and the mores of the intense, immigrant Italian community where the Mafia’s Omerta rules, leads to his emotional and tragic downfall. The local lawyer, Alfieri, parallels the Greek Chorus, providing comment and narrative on the unfolding tragedy, seemingly, despite his education and profession, unable to divert the path of fate.
We see Alfieri before the play begins, seated in the office which gives him a view of the unfolding action from the “bridge” constructed across the first few rows of the stalls. Ethan Bareham conveyed well his empathy for Eddie, and his impotence within the restrictions of the law in which he could only act.
Within the meaningful scaffolding of the set – the bareness, the basicness, the overshadowing, a gallows’ fatefulness, perhaps? – was the interior of the Carbones’ little flat, itself outlined by scaffolding and tilted (to suggest the slope of fate?). From initial darkness, dramatic music and blood-red lighting individually picked out the fated characters on the scaffold, setting the scene for the tragedy to follow.
Despite Eddie’s fall, in Jack Coombs’ moving portrayal of this big, initially strong, man, we feel for Eddie as he loses his – to him – all-important status as a man and head of the family, first in the eyes of his wife, then, in turn, to Catherine, and to Marco and Rodolfo. Broken by this realisation and the imminent marriage of Catherine to Rodolfo, he appeals in vain once more to Alfieri – “his eyes (truly) like tunnels” – before shopping the brothers to the immigration authorities, their subsequent arrest, Marco’s spit of utter contempt and his consequent rejection by the whole community. Even his attempt to use his knife on Marco is beaten by its being turned on him.
Grace Greaves played Bea, Eddie’s wife, with great maturity, as initially she intercedes wisely for Catherine in her bid for her own life, then as the truth of Eddie’s infatuation with their niece begins to dawn on her and, eventually, torn in half by loyalty to both, remains with Eddie as Catherine goes to marry Rodolfo and movingly weeps for him, cradling him as he dies.
We felt for Beth Ellison’s naturally teenage Catherine; the last thing she wants to do is to upset Eddie, to whom her gratitude is clear; yet, almost grown-up, she needs freedom to spread her wings and to meet other young people – the good-looking, fun-loving Rodolfo landing in the household is impossible to resist – and Beth showed us how Catherine, too, is torn as she becomes fully aware of what her relationship with Rodolfo is doing to Eddie, but she cannot divert the path of fate either.
Felix Nelson (Marco, the elder immigrant brother) made clear to us his reason for immigration and his responsibility for sending his earnings back to his poverty-stricken wife and sick children in Italy and, hence, his utter devastation when this was ended by his arrest, whereas Liam McKinnes (Rodolfo), clearly the younger, made clear his intention to enjoy his earnings and – although his love for Catherine appears genuine – his awareness that marriage to a resident would ensure his remaining in the country. Felis showed the fire of Marco’s nationality, while Liam a Mediterranean amoroso and youthful love of a good time.
The supporting parts of other longshoremen, neighbours and Immigration Officers were convincingly played, sustaining the relevant mood – whether the light-hearted banter at the end of the working day, the officious seeking out and arrest of the illegal ones or the rejection of Eddie as his treachery becomes clear. All were dressed in keeping with the date and setting, with age and role, and with the eye for detail always evidenced by Sheila Charania.
As ever at the Bacon, Props and Technicians appeared faultless and contributed their skills with care and accuracy to support this utterly smooth and memorable production of a notable play by a writer the notes (in a striking programme) described as “the greatest Tragedian since Shakespeare” – a privilege to be there, indeed.
Sue Padfield, former Housemistress and Senior Mistress