JOYCE MCMILLAN on A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow for The Scotsman, 2.6.09.
4 stars ****
GLASGOW, NEW YORK. They’re both great Atlantic port cities that once bred hard men to work in their docks and shipyards. They’ve both seen wave upon wave of migrants, some arriving legally, some less so; and they both have strong Italian communities, grafted now into the fabric of the city. Take all this shared experience, and add a day of the kind of steamy weather Glasgow rarely sees, and it’s perhaps not surprising that last night’s packed performance at the Theatre Royal of Lindsay Posner’s current touring production of A View From The Bridge, starring the great Ken Stott in the iconic role of longshoreman Eddie Carbone, felt like a homecoming for one of the great stage tragedies of the 20th century.
It’s not that Posner’s production is flawless, or even particularly imaginative. It offers the play more or less exactly as it was first written in the early 1950’s, it indulges in dreary blackouts between scenes while stagehands fuss around with chairs, and – like pearls on a fraying string – it is linked together by a frighteningly underpowered performance from Allan Corduner as the lawyer-cum-chorus Alfieri.
But even with all these limitations – and a consequent loss of power towards the end, as the cast tries to navigate the play’s torrid final scenes without much of a compass – there’s simply no denying the power of this great story about a man whose overwhelming passion for the niece he has brought up as a daughter leads him to betray his family, himself, and the community that gives his life meaning. Carbone’s response to his niece’s growing love-affair with Rodolpho, the illegal migrant whom Carbone has taken into his own home, is extreme, of course. In his world, to betray migrants to the authorities, is a kind of moral death, greeted with gasps of shock by some of last night’s Glasgow audience.
But the magnificence of this play lies in the ruthless honesty with which it links the tragedy of Eddie Carbone with the kind of ordinary passions – desperate, unrecognised, incapable of fulfilment – that blight and sadden lives everywhere, every day; and that magnificence is etched in every line on the face of Ken Stott, as he charts Eddie’s terrible, unstoppable decline from crumpled, contented geniality, into a hell of his own making, born of his own decent inability to recognise or name the passion that is driving him. Stott receives strong support from Hayley Attwell as the lovely Catherine, and from Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as his loving wife Beatrice, who understands his trouble only too well. But in the end, this version of A View From The Bridge seems like something of a one-man show. And it’s a tribute to Stott’s terrific power and integrity as an actor that it’s a show sometimes difficult to watch, in its relentless exposure of the hero’s pain; but unlikely to be forgotten by any of the Glasgow first-night audience who, at the end, cheered Stott to the echo.