Baldock’s Brave Bridge Unsteady but Unflinching
Canberra theatre’s newcomer Chris Baldock has made distinct, bold and brave choices in a powerful production of this modern classic and, mostly, it pays off.
“A View from the Bridge” is a great choice by Rep – a Longshoreman’s cautionary tale with recent runs on the West End and Broadway giving it a rep to rival Miller’s better known tragedies of the common man “The Crucible” and “Death of a Salesman”. It’s a cracking play and when you’ve got such great material anything that falls short sticks out like a blonde Sicilian.
Eddie Carbone, a dockworker from 50’s Italian-American Brooklyn, takes in his wife Beatrice’s illegal immigrant cousins Marco and Rodolpho. Catherine, the adopted niece of the Carbone’s, falls for the younger brother much to the disapproval of Eddie who has suppressed obsessions and desires for his niece. As always with Miller, a lot is at stake as the play reaches its inescapable, chaotic and cathartic climax.
The most successful aspect of this production is how well all the design elements are synthesised. Baldock’s set, Chris Ellyard’s lighting and Helen Drum’s costumes create a functional and atmospheric amphitheatre-esque pier with its sepia-toned inhabitants often appearing as though from an old photo. Except for a superfluous projection of the Brooklyn Bridge, this design is of a great conceptual standard and unity.
Knox Peden as Eddie has a huge task ahead of him here. For the play to really affect the audience you must fully believe he has good intentions and he must also appear strong, stoic, masculine and entirely in control… until, well, he isn’t. Then, we can feel for him as we watch him spiral, scramble, sink and fall. Peden, while formidable in the scramble stage, overplays his hand early and doesn’t leave himself far enough to go. It is an impassioned performance but his desperation, desire and dominance could simply bubble beneath the surface for much of the first act.
Karen Vickery’s Beatrice sees her husband’s downfall coming but still loses her fight to save their relationship. While Vickery in isolation is fantastic, giving the role the strength it deserves, I wish Mr and Mrs Carbone showed some glimpses of their lost affection or more desire for it to rekindle. Ultimately, I didn’t believe they were husband and wife.
Karina Hudson (another welcomed Canberra theatre newcomer) as the seventeen year old Catherine is full of energy, often drives her scenes and brings a clear arc to the role. However, the decision to go with a general American accent without a hint of that Brooklyn drawl is jarring and lessens her otherwise defined character work – making her appear too knowing and experienced rather than sheltered, teenagery and I’ve-never-left-this-block-naive.
Rodolpho and Marco, the brothers whose arrival catalyse the play’s events, need to be believable both individually and as a pair. Alexander Clubb plays Rodolpho with an endearing sensibility, giving thoughtful glimpses of his resolute yearning – outwardly his love for Catherine but perhaps moreso his desire to be an American. Chris Zuber gives an authentic and quietly compelling performance as the amiable Marco before the switch is justifiably flipped to hulk-mode. Together, Clubb and Zuber provide the right mix of contrast and commonality to make their brothers probably the most successful relationship in this production.
David Bennett as Alfieri is solid as the play’s involved, omnipresent and affected narrator.
Baldock’s decision to include a Greek chorus to accompany Alfieri is one that will no doubt split audiences and, while littered with great imagery and some stirring and dynamic vocal work from Clubb, I’m afraid to say that for the most part the chorus is redundant. The concept of community and the nod to the classic Greek tragedy that Miller’s script firmly alludes to could easily be achieved with only the principal cast, including Cameron Thomas and Ben Russell who also have firm characters that give them purpose, carrying out Baldock’s inserted chorus conventions.
Even though some concepts might not sit right for all audience members at all times, I commend Baldock on the fact that he has made unified choices and all involved in their ability to build this Bridge with tension, shape and outstanding commitment and attention to detail.
Despite some minor shortcomings, this is one tight show that will leave you breathless. Definitely one to be seen.