From one Arthur Miller classic to another: after seeing All My Sons at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, I attended a performance of A View From the Bridge at the Young Vic. However, the two productions couldn’t have been more different. Instead of a natural, period setting like the Regent’s Park production, this version, directed by Belgian director Ivo van Hove, eschews naturalism completely with a bare black-box stage, no props and unassuming, vaguely modern costumes. The production runs for two hours without an interval; it is intense and powerful, and as the play drives towards its inevitable conclusion, it resembles a Greek tragedy more than anything.
This is an inspired touch, as it gets to the heart of Miller’s intention in writing the play. The lawyer (Michael Gould) who narrates the story, talking directly to the audience and stepping out of the box (the only character to do so), functions as a kind of chorus. The plot is as tragic as anything in the classics. Eddie Carbone, a mid-20th century Brooklyn dock worker, is in love with his seventeen-year-old niece Catherine (a youthful, gauche Phoebe Fox), and when two Italian immigrant brothers (Emun Elliott and Luke Norris) arrive to work and live illegally in the Carbones’ flat, his jealousy at her blossoming relationship with the younger brother leads to tragedy.
Mark Strong is simply outstanding as Eddie, conveying his pain, passion and violence in a terrific performance. I was lucky enough to be sitting on the front row and there was something deeply unsettling, almost frightening about his presence. When I jumped up to give a standing ovation at the end of the play (in common with most of the audience), it was largely because of his performance.
Because for all its brilliance, this was a production that I appreciated on an intellectual level rather than an emotional one. The stripped-back setting and non-naturalistic production values – the ending being a particular case in point – were impressive and different, but they also made me feel rather detached from the story. If it wasn’t for the powerful acting of Strong and the rest of the cast – notably Nicola Walker as Eddie’s wife – I may have felt completely removed. On the other hand, the production of All My Sons at the Open Air Theatre, which received comparatively average reviews, displayed less innovation and employed traditional staging, had a much greater emotional impact on me, as the realistic setting made me feel closer to the characters and their plight.
Having said all that, this was a memorable and brilliant production, and one that will be remembered for years to come.