Writer: Arthur Miller
Director: Ivo van Hove
Reviewer: Nichola Daunton
After so many years of revival and re-interpretation, making an Arthur Miller play seem fresh and revelatory is quite a feat, but that’s exactly what Ivo van Hove’s new production has achieved. Tense and nerve-jangling, he has shaped Miller’s play into an epic Italian tragedy with a sense of foreboding that blisters and burns from the beginning to the very end.
The problem with staging Arthur Miller’s plays in the 21st century is that the moral and ethical codes that many of his works rely on have ceased to be so black and white. In a world where everything is grey and moral ambiguity reigns in politics and the media, producing a play by a man with such a rigid sense of right and wrong can be difficult to say the least. By breaking the bonds that anchor this play in the 1950s though, Hove has managed to free himself from the limitations of the traditional ‘well-made play’ and produce a night of theatre that is gripping from start to finish.
Jan Versweyveld’s epic set design must take some of the credit for this success. An enclosed box, the roof slowly opens to the soundtrack of a sweeping Italian requiem, both melancholy and grandiose. The space which is revealed beneath is sparse and elegantly lit yet always overhung by the close ceiling which lends the performance a sense of claustrophobia and charged heat. In the blank space, part locker changing room, part Roman bath house, Hove plays with the rhythm of Miller’s language, inserting pauses, using stage directions and mocking the bravado of masculinity as the men face each other off in a chair lifting competition.
The central relationship between Eddie Carbone and his orphaned niece Catherine, around which the other characters orbit, is brilliantly portrayed by Mark Strong and Phoebe Fox. While it is clear what is wrong with their relationship from the opening scenes, this doesn’t mean the play lacks subtlety, and the slow, agonising unravelling of their relationship stretches through the play, entangling anyone that dares to come near it. Catherine’s childlike innocence is enchanting to more than just Eddie though, and the arrival of two Italian immigrants into their lives, one of whom takes an instant liking to Catherine, soon has Eddie charging around like a wounded, bloodied animal.
Narrated by Eddie’s lawyer, Alfieri, the entire performance has the weight of a runaway train, everyone can sense disaster is coming but they are powerless to stop it as truth and the law must inevitably have their way. All the actors deliver excellent performances, Michael Gould’s Alfieri alternately watching and averting his gaze as he takes on the rôle of Greek chorus, while Nicola Walker as Eddie’s wife Beatrice delivers a fine performance as a woman who knows the truth but must fight to keep her family together despite it. Emun Elliott and Luke Norris are also excellent as the Italian brothers turning to America to escape starvation in Italy, and the tension between Marco and Eddie is white-hot as he tries to protect his innocent and ambitious brother from Eddie’s self-destruction.
The cinematic intensity of the final scene weaves everything together into a devastating climax, giving this classic play a new and vital lease of life.
Runs until 7th June