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A View from the Bridge at Manchester Royal Exchange

Published by: Caroline May on 24th May 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May

Arthur Miller’s 1955 play A View from the Bridge, set in the impoverished world of New York dockers and longshoremen, has the same sense of timelessness as the Greek tragedies it references.  Yet the subplot about desperate illegal immigrants and their precarious twilight existence strikes an urgent contemporary note today.

Eddie Carbone is a simple and good-hearted manual labourer.  Thanks to his generosity and sense of responsibility his wife Beatrice has never had to work and together they have raised Beatrice’s orphaned niece Catherine as their own.  But as Catherine has grown up Eddie has become more over-protective and possessive of her, and Beatrice’s eagerness for Catherine to fly the nest is as much for her own sake as her niece’s.

Miller’s narrator is the neighbourhood lawyer Alfieri, a not-so-cool and dispassionate observer of the unfolding drama.  For him, legal practice walks hand in hand with the laws of nature: “The law is only a word for what has a right to happen”.  As Eddie’s natural affection for Catherine becomes something more sinister, the catalyst for his inevitable punishment arrives in the guise of Beatrice’s illegal immigrant cousins, Marco and Rodolpho.

Olivier award-winner Con O’Neill plays Eddie with a surprising amount of tolerance and humour – in fact humour is the overwhelming note of Sarah Frankcom’s production – but the moment in Act Two when Eddie crosses the line with his niece draws an audible gasp of horror from the audience.

Anna Francolini’s jealous Beatrice, who seems rather too smart and middle-class to be married to a docker, revels in the shrewish aspects of the role, while Leila Mimmack’s feisty Catherine seems to grow up in front of our eyes.  Ronan Raferty’s sparkling and mercurial Rodolpho has exactly the quality the playwright describes of being able to make people laugh just from his manner of speaking.

Ian Redford was in the Exchange’s production of Antigone a couple of seasons ago, and his Alfieri seems steeped in classical Greek tragedy from the outset, while some lively cameos (assorted neighbours, longshoremen and immigration officers) remind us of the 1950s Brooklyn setting.

James Cotterill’s simple and uncluttered design lets the action move swiftly and clearly, and Peter Rice’s sound design is particularly interesting when Eddie makes his fatal phone call.

The tumultuous applause at the end of the show clearly indicates that the Royal Exchange has another hit on its hands.

A View From The Bridge is on until Saturday 25 June 2011
Prices £9-£32
Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30, Sat @ 8pm
Matinees: Wed @ 2.30, Sat @ 4pm
Box Office: 0161 833 9833



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