I’d been too busy to find out any information about this production before setting off to see it. It was only when I was at the venue last night that I found out that this new production was by Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts with two casts over a period of (only) eight evenings.
My review is based on Cast 1; the second cast takes over from 9 – 12 November. This Arthur Miller’s play, which is essentially about misplaced lust and sexual jealousy leading to the tragic downfall of an ordinary working class middle aged man, is not an easy one for very young actors to convey with conviction. Credit, therefore, to director Sally Ann Gritton for choosing a play that will test and challenge her youthful company.
Set in a 1950’s Italian neighbourhood in Brooklyn, this interpretation does take a while to get going. In the first five minutes, we see five dockyard workers passing wooden crates to each other while a lovely jazz accompaniment is playing in the background. Their passing skills are superb, as is the music, but five minutes is a little excessive. Then we meet the protagonist, Eddie Carbone, his wife, Beatrice, and Beatrice’s young niece, Catherine, on a simple stage design which deploys the wooden crates to make up their living/dining room. Having their domestic setting evoke Eddie’s dockyard work is a pretty neat idea. The three characters engage in mundane exchanges over soup and bread and you wonder where this is going. Eddie is protective over his 17 year old niece and is, at first, opposed to her wanting to work. Persuaded and admonished by Beatrice, he gives in, for which Catherine hugs him affectionately and you think nothing more of this.
The play really only gets going with the arrival of Beatrice’s cousins (Marco and Rodolpho) who are illegal immigrants from Italy in search for work in Brooklyn. The Carbones share their small home with the two men, making us wonder what sparks this claustrophobic environment will set off. In fairness, it is Alistair Higgins’ portrayal of Rodolpho that lights up the play. Looking uncannily like a younger version of Arsenal’s Arshavin and armed with a convincing Italian accent, Higgin’s Rodolpho is sweet, innocent, funny and cheeky. In short, Rodolpho is the anti-thesis of Eddie. Soon after meeting him, Catherine takes a shine to Rodolpho which is when we begin to see the unravelling of Eddie for Eddie isn’t what we thought he was.
Shaun Chambers gives us a bad-tempered and domineering Eddie who is unable to articulate his feelings and who remains resolutely unlikeable till the very end. Chambers conveys Eddie’s complexity through insightful gestures and facial expressions. I did, however, find his Eddie a tad too raw and explosive; a more nuanced portrayal might have made us a little more sympathetic to his character. That said, I think only a seasoned actor (both in life and on stage) can truly depict an Eddie who is losing his battle against his own inner demons.
Lily de-la-Haye Earl gives us a credible and complex Beatrice. Painfully aware of her husband’s feelings for her niece, she tries to strike a balance between her loyalty to her husband and her nurturing love for her niece. She encourages Catherine’s feelings for Rodolpho which makes you wonder if she’s doing this to not only save her marriage but to save her husband from himself. Catherine, played by Mimi Edwards, is a sheltered and sweet young girl who is unaware of her power over her uncle. Edwards’ portrayal of Catherine also makes sense when her character falls in love with the equally sweet Rodolpho. It’s a lovely pairing of two hopeful people who are untainted by life.
Miller has lawyer Alfieri (Jack Tompkins) play a one-man chorus part in this play, giving us his version of events, character assessment and the law. This classical Greek drama element is further accentuated by the amphitheatre style seating at the Arcola Tent. One notable missing feature in this production, however, is a true sense of a tight knit community which ostracises Eddie at the end.
This is a downbeat play but some of the stage directions and acting help to lighten up the bleakness. A valiant effort by all involved, this production packs a good punch even if it has a few weaknesses. Above all, it is a joy to see that British theatre won’t be short of talented actors in the future. Incidentally, unlike some of the recent deaths I’ve seen on stage recently, the death scene in this production ticks the ‘what makes a good stage death’ box.
A bit of advice, however: do take a warm coat, gloves and scarves with you. The Arcola Tent is not properly insulated (if at all) and it can get very cold in the evenings.
Until 12 November. Cast 1 is from 4 – 8 November; cast 2 is from 9 to 12 November. Performance running time is approximately 2 hours and 20 mins with an interval. Tickets are available at the box office.