Writer: Arthur Miller
Director: Holly Race Roughan
One of Arthur Miller’s most popular plays A View From The Bridge has been revived, coming to the Octagon Theatre in Bolton for an intimate performance, which has challenged convention and brought up themes of immigration, justice and law and love which – 68 years on from when the play was first written – still have relevance today.
The production, which has been inspired by Miller’s real encounters with the migrant enclave of Red Hook, is set in an Italian, American neighbourhood, with lawyer Alfieri (Nancy Crane) as the production’s narrator. Eddie (Jonathan Slinger) has an unhealthy obsession with Beatrice’s (Kirsty Bushell) orphaned niece Catherine (Rachelle Diedericks) and while he initially welcomes immigrants Rodolpho (Luke Newberry) and Marco (Tommy Sim’aan) into his home, it all turns extremely sour when Catherine and Rodolpho fall in love and agree to wed. Tensions rise and well-intentioned actions ultimately see events spiral completely out of control.
It’s a small cast, who work well with the material, space and set they’ve got. Directed by Holly Race Roughan, the staging of the show has been kept extremely simplistic, a single swing hanging towards the edge of the performance space and just plain black chairs being used by the actors. It helps that this performance space is multi-layered, with a balcony and set of stairs, adding a different dimension for the audience that keeps it visually engaging. But the sparsity on the stage is quite clearly an informed decision, with a desire to fill the stage with acting talent and the words of the playwright, rather than props and spectacle that could take away from the content.
The first half is much longer than the second and it is the latter where the performance really steps up a gear. Understandably, Act One is setting plot and introducing characters and relationships and, while fast in dialogue, it can feel quite slow in pace. It’s predominantly set in one location and while actors use blocking and intonation well, it isn’t the most gripping of starts to a play. That said, it puts the leg work in for the shorter and all round more powerful Act Two, where stunning performances from the cast, including fight sequences and a hard-hitting death scene, leave you feeling energised and emotional. The inclusion of some ballet within the piece is a confusing touch, proving to be more of a distraction than a compliment to the performances.
Crane as Alfieri is the first woman to take on this role in the modern day Greek tragedy – and she does not disappoint. Shining a spotlight on gender politics, she takes on the part with ease. And the other roles are also extremely well cast, with not one weak link in terms of acting capabilities. Slinger makes a stunning professional Arthur Miller debut as Eddie, having previously starred in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the West End and various productions with the RSC, to name a few. Diedericks also gives a beautiful performance, developing from a naive little girl, to a woman ready to marry her love in the most tumultuous of circumstances. But it’s not the most obvious part that offers perhaps the most watchable and dynamic performance of the night. Having starred in Angels in America for Headlong (who along with the Octagon Theatre and Chichester Festival Theatre and Rose Theatre present this production), it is Bushell as Beatrice who has you hooked from the get go. She is just one of those actresses you want to watch, who takes you on every part of her character’s journey with you, maintaining a rawness and believability that is just beautiful to watch.
It’s not quite Death of a Salesman standard and it does take a while to really get into it, but once you’re in, it does hit you hard, with an ending that gives you a view from the auditorium of some stunning actors, who are quite clearly in the place where they belong.
Runs until 30 September 2023.