As the new Liverpool Everyman settles into its renovated home, it’s time for the Playhouse to steal back a little limelight. The first production in the Spring/Summer season is this revival of Arthur Miller’s 1955 classic tragedy. It’s the story of New York dock worker, Eddie Carbone (Lloyd Hutchinson) and his struggle to provide for his family against a backdrop of sweeping social changes, immigration and his own prejudices.
Eddie lives with his wife, Beatrice (Julia Ford) and orphaned niece, the 17-year old Catherine (Shannon Tarbet); a beautiful, intelligent teenager who wants to spread her wings and discover the world. It quickly becomes apparent that Eddie harbours more than paternal feelings for his ward, feelings he struggles to deal with when Beatrice’s two Italian cousins Rodolpho (Andy Apollo) and Marco (Daniel Coonan) arrive from the motherland (illegally) looking for work at the docks. When Eddie realises that Catherine and Rodolpho share a mutual attraction, he is horrified. He not only feels threatened by the young man’s presence, but he’s afraid of being usurped in Catherine’s affections.
The drama centres around Eddie’s attempts to justify his bullish behaviour around the Italian interlopers, and stop Catherine from becoming independent. Beatrice, patently aware of her husband’s unhealthy interest in her niece, actively encourages Catherine to take a job so she can make enough money to move into her own place – and away from Eddie – and is also instrumental in pushing Catherine and Rodolpho together. Still in love with her husband, despite his lack of attention, Beatrice avoids the temptation to confront Eddie over his infatuation of Catherine, but knows no good will come of the situation as long as Rodolpho is around.
Acting as narrator of the play is lawyer, Mr Alfieri (Bruce Alexander), a Harry Carpenter-lookalike who tells the audience all about Eddie and – in conversation with Eddie himself – tries to persuade him to put Catherine out of his mind, when Eddie goes to him for ‘legal advice’ on how to split Catherine and Rodolpho. Because Rodolpho is blond (a rarity in Eddie’s neighbourhood), can cook, sew, sing and dance, Eddie is convinced that the young man is “not right”, and is only pursuing Catherine for his own passport. Eddie even tries to teach Rodolpho how to box, to prove to Catherine how weak the young man is. Jealousies and accusations abound and, as Mr Alfieri has warned us from the start, things just aren’t going to end well.
It’s the second time I’ve seen the play (the last being in Nottingham many years ago), but it all came flooding back as Eddie bellowed his way through his own arguments, refusing to see anybody’s point of view except his own and determined that, if he couldn’t have Catherine then, in the age-old tradition of love and revenge, then nobody would.
Overall, it’s a very good production, with Hutchinson’s powerful performance a particular standout, he really is excellent. The set is admirably simple, the lighting suitably morose and understated, and the sense of impending doom is always there from start to finish.
My only gripes are perhaps picky at best, but relevant all the same. Tarbert’s Catherine seemed far too simpering than I remembered, and there was zero sexual energy from her, a precocity which Catherine requires if we’re to believe her uncle’s infatuation with her, and her desire to become her own woman. Ford’s accent slips from New York into Irish and, sometimes, Scouse which, although noticeable, at least serves to demonstrate the common origin of all three. The thing about Julia Ford, though, is that she’s so brilliant at body language and nuances, she could almost have mimed her way through the performance and I’d still have understood exactly what her journey was.
Apollo and Coonan were well cast as the close, if polar opposite, Italian brothers, and Coonan, especially, got the balance between bullish protective sibling and proud, honest worker, spot on. Even the gang of 200 schoolkids who were piled into the Upper Circle, seemed spellbound by the power and drama unfolding on the stage.
Exploring issues which are still as relevant today as ever (sexual jealousy, illegal immigration, family loyalty, poverty and gender stereotypes), A View From The Bridge is a fittingly robust start to the Playhouse’s new programme.
A View From The Bridge @ Liverpool Playhouse runs until Saturday 19th April.