What is the mark of a truly great production of a piece of drama? The effect it has on you as it unfolds? The aspects of it which stay with you, which haunt you, which spring immediately to mind whenever the title is mentioned? Remembering the feelings you experienced as the production played out, especially when, in your real life, you experience those feelings in a different context and marvel at the memory? Or is it the ability of the production to make you feel again everything you experienced the first time you saw it, even though you have seen it, know its secrets, but have still more to surprise and impress you?
In truth, it is all of those things and more, a fact established incontrovertibly by the transfer of Ivo Van Hove’s transcendent production of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, now playing at the Wyndham’s Theatre. When it played at the Young Vic last year, it was astoundingly good.
But, with the same principal cast, that production is now more astounding, more resonant, more startling, more achingly beautiful, more brutally tragic, more completely captivating and endlessly fascinating. This is dynamic, inspirational theatre of the highest order.
The cast are flawless, a truly cohesive and coherent ensemble. Each supports the other. Every character gets at least two major moments to really astound and every other character sets the groundwork, establishes the situation, carefully and precisely, so that those moments are truly astonishing. There is a rich, complicated sincerity to the portrayals; shared unspoken truths, deeply felt silences and falsehoods, meaningful pauses and sideway glances, the telling habits and rituals of lives lived together.
Every actor is better, more assured, more certain of their character and their function and contribution to the drama. There is not a moment wasted or thrown away; even in silence, out of the main arena, each character is perfectly played, beautifully and totally realised.
What Van Hove has achieved here is superb in every way. The telling of Miller’s tale is clean, pulsates with reason and truth and, like a great orchestral symphony, has a shape, a fierce force, a presence greater than each of its parts. And, like a symphony, it has soft, quiet and intense passages as well as soaring, majestic crescendos.
At the centre of the maelstrom of human experience that whips up and around and in Jan Versweyveld’s spare set, which, evocatively, looks more like a cage or gladiatorial arena now than it did at the Young Vic, is the towering, mesmerising and faultless turn from Mark Strong. Lean, muscular, a volcano approaching breaking point, Strong’s extraordinary Eddie is a once-in-a-generation performance.
He has exemplary assistance from Nicola Walker, utterly sublime as Eddie’s neglected and dismayed wife, Beatrice, and Phoebe Fox, vivacious and confused as the niece he loves too determinedly. Both are marvellous.
Luke Norris, magnetic and winning, and Emun Elliott, brooding and powerful, are in scintillating form as the two Italian brothers who come to stay, illegally working in the USA to build better futures. Michael Gould’s Alfieri, the Everyman lawyer, the watcher, narrator, commentator, is brilliantly ordinary, making sense of the tragedy which unfolds around him.
Every actor here is at the top of their game, totally submerged in their characters, freshly and freely invigorating Miller’s narrative.
The staging is extraordinary: absent furniture, the actors are freed to act. When props appear – shoes, a chair – their purpose is central, key. Elliott’s spectacular handling of the chair is an indelible moment of pure theatre; so is Strong’s emasculation of Norris’ Rodolpho with a violating, enforced kiss, a moment which took some in the opening night audience by visceral, gasp-inducing surprise. Walker’s bitter denunciation of Strong’s attachment to her niece; Elliot’s violent aggression when he realises what Strong has done; Gould’s straight-down-the-line advice to Strong once Elliott and Norris are imprisoned; the purity, gentleness and fervour between Fox and Norris – the production is chock full of glorious moments of beguiling power.
The opening and closing tableaux are especially remarkable, perfectly book ending a production rooted in realism with symbolic and atmospheric visuals that are as meaningful as they are poetic. The blood drenched, silent collapse at the climax of the play is shattering, almost unendurable.
Versweyveld’s lighting, An D’Huys’ costumes, Tom Gibbons’ sound – every aspect of design perfectly assists the realisation of Van Hove’s vision here. This is A View From The Bridge for all seasons.
Unmissable. Almost certainly the play of 2015. Do anything, absolutely anything, to get a seat.