The starkness and the straightforwardness of the staging of The Young Vic’s transfer revival, A View From the Bridge is striking. I had no idea how well suited this play is to such a stripped down treatment. But what Ivo Van Hove does here as the superlative director is both daring and illuminating, not just in the intensity and rawness that it elicits, but the fervent tension it creates.
From the moment the ‘curtain’ rises and we see two men literally stripped down washing and drying themselves, this production is on high alert with brutish physical tension. Stationed in an illuminated and confined white square, these men feel like they are stuck in an aquarium of sorts; trapped in their world and in their circumstance for us to watch and listen to their tragic story that is about to play out before us. As we bare witness to this quiet tableau at the beginning of this play, intense and dramatic opera music is played and the sexuality explodes in a way I was not prepared for. This is not your everyday revival of this Arthur Miller classic. This production seethes with just-below-the-surface lustfulness and passion. We feel the desire and the jealousy pound through the play and heighten with each step towards the obvious and unavoidable conclusion.
In stark contrast to the two laborers we first see in the square, a suit wearing man (an incredible Michael Gould), Alfieri, begins to tell us the tale. Narrating from outside this square, he is here to help guide us observers. But he is also a part of this story; an Italian lawyer, an outsider himself by profession, in this Brooklyn working man’s community and he, like us, will watch and see this doomed story unfold, unable to change the inevitable forgone conclusion.
We can see it all from the greeting that the wonderful feisty niece (played by the talented and fierce Phoebe Fox) gives to her hard working caregiver/uncle Eddie (the powerful and intense Mark Strong) upon his return home from a long days work. Their interactions are uncomfortable to pay witness to, mainly because of their physicality and heightened affection. I had to remind myself that this relationship is one between an uncle and a niece, and not two lovers itching to get their hands on each other. Strong’s presence and complex characterization shapes the story and we can feel his love, his discomfort, and also his denial, even when he can’t. His wife, Catherine, played by the wonderful Nicola Walker, is as uncomfortable with their affection as we are, and we feel her unease. The unease escalates into a storm when the sexy and passionate Russell Tovey as the Italian immigrant, Rodolpho, comes into their lives and in one short moment, causes the upheaval that will rock this world apart.
This is an intense portrait of a loving but tortured man, his scared and unnerved fighter of a wife, and the naive yet sensual young niece longing to grow up and become the sexual woman that she feels growing inside her.
Utilizing the sparse and severe space of this beautifully designed set (Jan Versweyveld/scenic and lighting design), Van Hove has created a sad yet highly charged story, surprisingly operatic in its telling. Tom Gibbons’ stark sound design emphasizes the pounding brutality and passion within brilliantly and with each beat, the tension escalates. And even with all the knowing and the seeing of what is coming, we, as the outsiders, are transfixed, and the ending only emphasizes the devastation and the brilliance we are witnessing.