A View from the Bridge

Wed 10th – Sat 13th October 2012

reviews

Tim Bano

at 01:34 on 11th Oct 2012

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I felt a little bit sorry for the cast tonight. Partly because of the snickering swarms of school children, laughing at the kissing scenes and undermining much of the tension of the performance. But mostly because the fruits of the cast's labour were little more than an adequate and enjoyable, in this often lacklustre production.

The acting was generally strong. Barney White as Eddie and Lauren Hyett as Bea shone particularly, although both only began to shine in the second act. White pinned down the rough, loving patriarch convincingly, but tended to rely a little too much on his props – a pocket watch, or a newspaper, or a cigar. Rarely did he break out of his two modes: defensive and loud, or attacking and louder. With arms folded or planted on her hips, Hyett gave a great performance as the wife, Bea; her love for Eddie was there, and with it a kind of maternal patience. Her face maintained a look of anxiety and concern for the family around her. Joseph Allan’s wearied face conveyed Marco’s hardened spirit, augmented by his sparse movement, his few words. Rodolpho (Peter Huhne) was a goon. With an accent that sounded, sometimes, like he was about to break into “I Like to be in America” and, other times, like the Count from Sesame Street he turned his scenes into unconvincing farce. A school group in the audience latched onto Rodolpho as a comic figure and laughed every time he was on stage.

I tend to wince with trepidation when actors begin a play with thick accents. Sustaining a convincing Brooklyn accent for over two hours is difficult, and any tiny slip can wrench the audience from their immersion in the action of the play. There is a fine line between an actor pulling it off or seeming like he’s over-indulged in a box set of the Sopranos. Although there was a bit of a spectrum, (let’s put it down to regional variation) the accents were never much of a distraction – an impressive product of careful preparation and hard work from the actors.

The script is dripping with tension, with foreshadowing and suspense; this production was not. The scene changes were slow, with a couple of lingering blackouts that prompted premature applause from the audience. The play begins as a kind of social study: we do not sympathise because of the positive qualities of the characters, but rather because of their difficult circumstances. Poor longshoremen, grafting hard for their living; and Marco’s family, his wife and young children, left starving in Italy. So the themes of the play – poverty, acceptance, jealousy, sexuality, betrayal inter alia – are dark, depressing, unrelenting; this production relented, and there was humour where humour should not be. There was no closeness in the family scenes, very little physical contact and no rhythm. Long pauses between lines made the energy level drop, then build again repeatedly as the drama unfolded. It was a series of peaks and troughs, but the peaks were not as high as the troughs were deep.

Overall, there was little more to the production than a confident and capable rendering of the script. I can understand that the director would have been loath to fiddle about with Miller’s vision – the richness of the script really does speak for itself – but it seemed like there was something missing: energy or action or imagination. It was really not at all bad; but that’s just not quite good enough.

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Suwita Hani Randhawa

at 10:00 on 11th Oct 2012

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This production of Arthur Miller’s play successfully transports us into the heart of Brooklyn, New York in the 1950s. The look, feel and vibe of this era is all there – the New York accents, the quintessential New York fire escapes, the old-school furniture, and the vintage costumes – and this makes for a delightful entry into the substance of Miller’s morally and emotionally charged tragedy. The performance relies on a minimal number of carefully thought-out devices that serve to enhance the depths of Miller’s work: the simplicity of the production serves as a stark contrast to the play’s heavy themes and this has the surprising effect of accentuating the complexities that mark this play and the themes it addresses. The well-designed set, the sparse use of music, and the lack of special effects make this a no-frills performance. What this successfully does, however, is set us up for a performance that invites us into an intimate space where the heart and essence of the play actually lies – the emotions, the passions and the sentiments of the characters of 'A View From the Bridge'.

The cast of actors individually deliver convincing performances and the effort and energy they have invested in their characters is clearly evident on stage. However, as a collective, the performance lacks some emotional intensity and at times this leaves the performance without much depth. The chemistry between the actors is somewhat tentative and hesitant and this contributes to some stiffness throughout the performance. In particular, it prevents the themes of the play from being fully developed on stage and moreover, it doesn’t entirely allow for the complexities that surround each character to come alive on stage.

A large degree of the performance’s intensity emanates from Barney White, who plays the tragic male protagonist Eddy Carbone. His confidence reverberates across the stage and he appears both entirely comfortable and at ease playing the role of Arthur Miller’s tragic hero. It is really his stellar performance that successfully captures much of the moral and emotional complexities that define this play: it is through his performance that we feel, see and identify with the play’s overarching themes of passion, honour, pride and justice.

Taking on a play by Arthur Miller is an inevitably tall order and this production by the University of Oxford student company is certainly a bold and whole-hearted attempt at demonstrating the continuing relevance of Miller’s social commentary, as well as his dramatic contribution, to our times.

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