Tobacco Factory, Bristol – until 12 May 2018
This is it. The show to proclaim loudly that Tobacco Factory Theatres is in safe hands and ready to sail into a golden future under its artistic director Mike Tweddle. If the Tobacco Factory rep company was solid in Macbeth, the five-star work begins here, a tight, intense, bruising and occasionally rollercoaster spiralling take on Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge.
Miller’s play invokes the sense of community of Brooklyn’s Red Hook, where dock workers go about their daily hard labours, and this Tobacco Factory production finds its own, drawing a community chorus from a group of non-professionals, aged 22 to 70, many of whom haven’t acted before and have been coached here in weekly classes for the past ten weeks.
Five take to the stage per performance, their energy and focus an important part to a climax that feels as inexorably inevitable as Oedipus’ final fall, from the moment that immigrant brothers Marco (Aaron Anthony) and Rudolpho (a terrific blonde-dyed and sensitively hued Joseph Tweedale) enter the house and cause the small Carbone family household to shatter outwards.
Tweddle keeps most of the action confined to a rectangular playing space in the middle of the space, an area in Anisha Fields’ design just a tad too small to host the heightened feelings that play out there.
Eddie begins the play perched on a small old rocking chair, paper in hand, king of his own domain. He is small and wiry, a New York street dweller, as handy with his fists as he is uncomfortable with his feelings. Mark Letheren is superb here, his Eddie a man driven to the edge by feelings he dare not voice, a decent man who loses all sense of who he is.
Miller constantly demands his protagonists fight for their name and the associations these give them, from John Proctor’s ‘I have given you my soul, leave me my name’, to Joe Keller’s ‘A little man makes a mistake and they hang him by his thumbs’, Eddie’s Carbone grapples about what being a man means. He is old school. A grafter. A provider. As he watches his niece grow up and make decisions for herself, independently of himself you can see his nostrils flare. The status quo is broken. His suspicions about Rudolpho; who makes things, sings and cooks question his own sense of masculinity. In Act 2 he forces kisses on both his niece and her beau, the visceral roars of reaction it engendered in a Thursday afternoon matinee showed the play still, some fifty years later, retains its power to shock and provide narrative thrust.
Letheren’s performance is award worthy, as memorable in its way as Mark Strong’s take for Ivo van Hove a few years back. He is ably supported by Katy Stephens as his wife Beatrice, who follows her thrilling take on Lady M, with another women who finds her husband lost to her. This is a more subtle piece of work, her eyes a constant array of worry and fret as she sees everything but refuses to countenance what is occurring directly in front of her. If her Lady Macbeth starts with power which gradually erodes, here her Beatrice gains in power as her family falls apart around her. It proves without doubt that she is one of our finest actors of modern vintage. Recent Bristol Old Vic Theatre School graduate Laura Waldren presents a different take on Catherine then many, less girlish, more womanly, and clear eyed bright; someone who prides herself on seeing the bigger picture. The moment she questions whether Rudolpho genuinely loves her rather than the American dream is bruising. She and Tweedale create real chemistry between their characters, like the best relationships both light and and sensual. The beginning of the second Act between them is tingly sexy.
For over two hours this Greek tragedy relocated to NY plays in that rectangular front room, coiling tighter and tighter as violence threatens to erupt. Then finally in the closing stages Tweddle releases it. The work hits operatic heights: music that had previously underscored rising to crescendos, lighting flaring, the space around the house now full of the community actors recruited for the project. The final fight is brief and brutal. The final wail a despairing aria. It is an accomplished piece of directing, leaving it late to reveal much of its hand. For a first calling card in a space that he has now called home for close to two years it couldn’t have gone much better. The bar is set high
A View From The Bridge plays at Tobacco Factory Theatres until the 12 May.