After two weeks of countless promotions, Facebook posts, videos and previews, expectations were high for Louis Catliff’s production of Arthur Miller’s classic play A View from the Bridge. Upon taking my seat for the play’s final performance on Thursday night, I was directly carried away by pleasing 1950s music, increasing my anticipation for the play, and reminding me of these expectations.
Curtains open, the audience was immediately faced with an open stage, revealing the interesting take on Arthur Miller’s set. The set had been cleverly conceptualised, especially given the production’s student budget. Instead of the play’s original set design which included a staircase and a phone booth, stage designers, Catliff and Danielle Donnally, opted for a raised room upstage, with a ‘street’ running across the centre of the stage and Alfieri’s office downstage. Though somewhat simple and different to the original, this set design resulted in interesting and dynamic lighting, as well as swift scene changes.
Introducing us into the first act was Seb Bridges, playing the narrator and lawyer, Alfieri. With a subtle hint of a Brooklyn accent, his opening captivated the audience, acting as a drive throughout the rest of the performance. Though narrators can often add a lull to a play, the interplay between his scenes as a narrator, his constant observing of the entire play, and his scenes as a lawyer added a certain strength to the performance and created a direct link between the audience and the characters.
With a deep, booming voice, Gareth Owen took to the stage as Eddie Carbone. Though credit should be given to all of the actors involved in the production, it was Owen who carried the show, albeit displaying a somewhat unconvincing Brooklyn accent. Accent aside, his understanding of the character’s complexities, along with his perfectly timed line delivery and reactions resulted in a near flawless performance.
With a play largely focused within a single room, a relatively ‘action-less’ first act, and lengthy narrative passages, I was eager to see how Catliff’s blocking would come through, either adding dynamism to the naturalism of the play, or instead falling flat. Though the performance did face a few odd moments and unnatural pauses, they did not detract from the otherwise well-thought-out, precise blocking. Stylistic choices such as the removal of the dinner scene at the beginning of the play also added to this, and smoothly kept the play and the audience’s attention going.
Though overall tragic in its essence, the play’s first act’s more light-hearted lines were received with bouts of laughter upon the actors’ clever delivery, an added feature which I had not encountered when reading the play, and which reminded me of the magic of watching live theatre.
I was transported, not only by the actors’ singular performances, but also by their chemical interactions, which transfixed me throughout the performance. Jonathan Hewitt and Oli Savage’s characterisations of Marco and Rodolfo perfectly melted in with the rest of the actors, and developed throughout the play as needed. With astute reminders of passing time, such as a Christmas tree and the Italians’ Americanised accents in the second act, it was interesting to see how all of the characters changed throughout the performance. Neither forced nor remiss, these characterisation changes perfectly heightened the audience’s understanding of the characters, somewhat adding to the play’s growing spark and its tragic downfall of events.
After an engrossing mise en scène at the end of Act I, with Rodolfo and Catherine (Caitlin Morris) dancing in the centre, Beatrice (Eilidh Mackinnon) and Marco lifting a chair above a flustered Eddie, music again carried us away into the intermission and onto another enthralling act.
More violent in its actions, the second act saw the audience’s reactions change from light-hearted laughter to concerned stares. With each scene playing into the next, the second act felt slightly rushed at times, though again, this could have been seen as a quality adding to the dramatic succession of events and the story’s climax.
With a single spotlight shining on Owen near the end of the performance, acting as a replacement for a phone booth, I felt myself entranced, suspense gathering through the audience. When the lights flashed back to the room at the back of the stage, I felt myself snapped back into a kind of reality, anticipating the denouement of the play.
Another commendable feature of the second act was Catliff’s choice to have non-speaking characters onstage during the play’s climatic moments. As mentioned in an interview with Catliff and his assistant director, Elliott Douglas, prior to the performance, the idea was to create a Greek-chorus-like ensemble in the background. The effect of this was convincing, adding to the tension of the play’s final scenes.
With Bridges’ growing involvement as Alfieri throughout this second act, Owen’s strength in his portrayal of Eddie, Morris’ and the other actors’ character development, as well as dynamic scene montages and lighting, the ending of the play offered just what everyone had expected: a perfectly tragic and passionate end to a near-perfect performance.
Though a student production which was at times tainted with difficulties and inconsistencies, Catliff, along with the rest of the cast and crew undeniably created an outstanding show that was worthy of Miller’s masterpiece.