I was lucky enough to see a View from the Bridge last night at the Young Vic. What a play! I feel as though I am only just recovering. It was a frighteningly good production, pared down to the minimum. There was almost no set, the characters prowled an empty cube, clothes were drab, there were no shoes, the music was a doom-laden requiem interspersed with a nightmarish drum beat. The effect was to lock the characters into their own mental turmoil – or, rather, to coop them all up with the feverish, monstrous passions of the lead character, played by Mark Strong. I’m not making it sound like a fun evening, but I think the director went right back to the roots of theatre, and gave us something better than fun – catharsis. Strong (and those around him, including the brilliant Nicola Walker) suffered so that we didn’t have to.
Ironically, the last time I saw Mark Strong act was last week, when Child One was ill, and we settled down to watch Jane Austen’s Emma. Even trussed into knee breeches and performing those ridiculous Bonnet Show dances, where everyone jigs about like crazed grasshoppers, there was still a whiff of sulphur about Strong’s Mr Knightley. He was never as convincing as in the moment when he gives Emma a tongue-lashing for dissing poor old Miss Bates. Mind you, that was as nothing to the punishment he dishes out in View from the Bridge – to his family, and himself.
I’m not a huge fan of Arthur Miller, but this production manages to point a searchlight at the question he always asks – how can man, with all his rawness, fit into ‘civilised’ society’s American dream? It also strips the play of its sentimentality, its datedness and every single one of its frills.
At a time when I am more preoccupied than usual by the battle of the sexes, after Child Two’s unpleasant experiences, the play cuts right to my worries. But, thank goodness, real life can never be as red in tooth and claw as it was on stage last night. Can it?