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There’s a moment in the middle of Ivo van Hove’s superb, searing production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge when Eddie Carbone, his wife Beatrice and niece Catherine sit on a step and chat. The longshoremen have been unloading coffee: the three gossip amicably about how nice the neighbourhood smells. And there it is, for a moment: the easy warmth and familiarity they had just a few years earlier, the loss of which haunts them.
It’s a mark of how good this staging is that you feel the characters’ former selves just below the surface because we join the story as it tips on to the slope towards disaster. And what is so painfully sad about van Hove’s unbearably tense production (transferred from the Young Vic) is the way it reminds you that the sorrow here has its origins in generosity. That is the tragedy of Mark Strong’s Eddie Carbone: he is a good man who can’t admit to himself that what he wants has become wrong.
In van Hove’s distilled staging, 1950s Brooklyn isn’t physically present but its influence is understood. The action unfolds in a starkly lit, bare rectangle, making the characters look like laboratory specimens. This antiseptic setting should drain the emotion; in fact it has the opposite effect: the psychological drama becomes acute. The claustrophobia of the tight-knit community, the code of honour among the men — these are felt in the characters’ behaviour. Most importantly, this sparse arena knits together the domestic drama with the influence of Greek tragedy (often an awkward mix) to deliver the scale of the agony for those involved.
Just as there is no escape for characters, there is none either for the actors and they are all magnificent. Strong is simply outstanding as Eddie, a man whose fiercely loyal, dogged nature won’t allow him to recognise the danger in his shifting love for his teenage niece (Phoebe Fox). Strong starts to look like a wounded animal in a snare: tormented and dangerous. Nicola Walker is beautifully understated as Beatrice, as she tries, together with Michael Gould’s exasperated lawyer, to divert Eddie from catastrophe.
It’s not so natural a fit for Jan Versweyveld’s set on the proscenium arch: the action feels more distant. But the company brings some audience seating on to the stage, so that we are watching them as they watch. It’s a move that compounds the helpless sensation of observing an accident in slow motion that no one can avert.
Photograph: Jan Versweyveld