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A View From The Bridge

When Arthur Miller wrote the original one-act verse-play version of A
View From The Bridge in 1955, its apparently true story told to him by
a longshoreman working on the New York waterfront was a failure. A year
later, however, and with the dialogue of the expanded two-act version
now a more naturalistic but no less heroic meat-and two veg prose, A
View From The Bridge became the last of Miller’s great early works, and
rightly remains a staple of twentieth century tragedy.

When John Dove’s brand new production opens at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum
Theatre next month, the play looks set to appear as contemporary as
ever. This too without any directorial tricks or conceptual
sleight-of-hand, but rather by Dove and his cast concentrating on the
eternal follies of human weakness that looks almost worryingly familiar.

Here is a work, after all, that focuses on the ultimate blue-collar
taboos, as the play’s hero Eddie Carbone moves beyond the rough and
tumble of dockland life for an infinitely more vulnerable domestic
scenario. If Eddie begins the play emasculated by the daily struggle
for work, he also finds himself struggling with feelings for his
orphaned niece Catherine just as his wife Beatrice’s two cousins arrive
in town as illegal immigrants. Just to add insult to injury, one of
them is a fey aesthete who woos Catherine with charms a long way from
the machismo of the dockside. Finally, emotionally inarticulate and
torn as he is by old loyalties, Eddie commits the worst, most
self-destructive sin of all. He betrays his own kind, and what looks
like a mid-life crisis on a grand scale becomes something even more
epic.

“It feels right to do now”, Dove explains sitting in a Lyceum rehearsal
room filled with domestic clutter. “I’m trying to find the humanity in
the story. Miller puts this disparate group of people into a confined
situation and puts love into it and all these very strong human
situations and relationships into it. And I try to unclutter them and
make them simpler, simpler and simpler. This is what I try to do with
Arthur’s work, because too often I see great plays cluttered, and I try
and go the other way and find the off-rhythms and the unexpected deep
within it, and bring out of that parallels with our lives that we might
miss. I’m going on to do a Shakespeare, because you’re always drawn to
the massive writers, because in this time, now, it feels that what the
people of the world need is trust and truth. They need answers, and in
a way they don’t need telling problems so much. In our modern media
there’s a tremendous saturation of what’s wrong, and what I try to do
is to draw out what’s right.”

This will be the fifth play Dove has tackled for the lyceum over the
last seven years. This follows on from immaculate productions of The
Price, All My Sons, Death Of A Salesman and a look at an early work,
The Man Who Had All The Luck. If there’s a common thread running
through each, it is the sense of human frailty Dove speaks of in even
bigger terms than the implicit suggestions of the work itself.

“What the lawyer Alfieri says at the end of the play is what drew me
in,” he says. “About being wholly known. We need that in life now.
Things are going wrong because we don’t address it. I’m not standing in
a pulpit saying this, but it’s blindingly obvious that we should be
excruciatingly embarrassed by the fact that a premiership footballer
can play for the same wage that thirty nurses get paid for a year. I
don’t know why we’re on this island if that can happen. If that can
happen, why are we going Christmas shopping? Where has our mental
picture gone wrong? And I feel that we’re all in it together. There’s
still such disparity, and it’s appalling that it’s going on into the
twenty-first century, that we’re still not doing anything about it.

“We howl at the bankers and we howl at the MPs, but if we really
settled as a people to looking at what Arthur’s talking about as a
truth, and started taking responsibility as a whole nation, and not
just getting at one group of us, we would start to ask, maybe, each
premier league footballer to give up a week’s pay, then the health
system gets going again. It’s as simple as that, but we just won’t do
it. We’ve got to move on. The play is still relevant now, and Arthur
ahead of us. He was a Jewish man in America from émigré stock. He felt
an outsider, and he crossed all boundaries and all barriers, and tried
to find the core in humanity which would sort out the core humanities
we’re talking about. That’s why I’m drawn to his plays. I think they’re
honest and I think they’re tough, and I think we need them, not as a
medicine, but as an uplift.”

If all of Miller’s plays are shot through with a sense of time and
place, Dove’s productions remain bolted to what he sees as a uniqueness
if an Edinburgh audience.

“It’s glorious”, according to Dove. “You could take any other city in
the world – I don’t know where, it might be Bangkok or one of the
Japanese cities and do five of Arthur’s plays and you’d get the same
rapport with the audience – but here we are in Edinburgh and that’s
what it’s done. I couldn’t have done it in London. I don’t know why
that is, but there’s something in Edinburgh where they intuitively
understand the tide that Miller’s asking for in life. I‘d have known
after the first one of that wasn’t the case. There’s something here
that creates an alchemy when they’re watching Arthur. As a by-stander
you're watching, and you think, it’s happened again, this marriage
between the play and the audience. And the more time goes on, the
deeper it becomes.”

Dove worked with Miller on a production at Hampstead Theatre in London
prior to the playwright’s death in 2004. Dove describes Miller as “a
giant of a man. Coming from a position of perceived inferiority as a
Jewish family, gave him a humility. It seems to me that you get it in a
few people around the world, usually who’ve suffered a lot, like Nelson
Mandela or Arthur, who understand that what’s required is humanity.
Arthur’s plays are more important and it’s more imperative that they’re
done than ever before, because we go on and on being blind. A lot of
what Arthur is doing is drawing the curtains and throwing a little sun
on us.”

A View From The Bridge will be the last play Dove will tackle at the
Lyceum for some time. Dove goes on to direct All’s Well That Ends well
at the Globe, which shares a cast with Howard Brenton’s most recent
play, Anne Boleyn, also directed by Dove.

“He’s got the same sort of mind as Arthur”, Dove says of Brenton.
“There’s this broad humanity, and I love them, these big people.”

It’s unlikely, however, that Dove will be deserting Miller for long.

“I shall say goodbye to Arthur for now”, Dove says, “because I’ve other
things I want to do here. But if I was asked to do one of Arthur’s
plays elsewhere, Tel Aviv or somewhere, I would. But the Willy Loman
Arthur thought was the greatest was in Beijing. The thing with Arthur
is that nobody on the stage is wrong. I try to get that from Arthur
always. The worst messes from life come from where everyone is
well-intentioned, but then it all goes wrong. That’s where the humanity
comes from.”

A View From The Bridge, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, January
14-February 12.
www.lyceum.org.uk

The Herald, December 28th 2010

ends

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