To say visionary Belgium director Ivo van Hove’s production of ‘A View from the Bridge’ is the best show in the West End at the moment is like saying Stonehenge is the current best rock arrangement in Wiltshire: it almost feels silly to compare this pure, primal, colossal thing with anything else in Theatreland.
After selling out its run at the Young Vic last year, a transfer for Van Hove’s Arthur Miller revival seemed inevitable just as soon as star Mark Strong and the rest of the cast could be reconvened. The main worry, I suppose, is that the staging – wherein all the action takes place in a huge, tank-like box surrounded on three sides by the audience – would be compromised by the restrictions of Wyndham’s Victorian stage.
But Van Hove has done a neat fudge, putting two small banks of audience seating on stage, on either side of the set. This is important not so much because they’re good seats (though I guess they are) but because the rest of us can see the audience sitting in them.
The play takes its name from Miller noting that to most well-heeled New Yorkers, the working-class neighbourhood of Red Hook was just a view from the Brooklyn Bridge. By making the tragedy of Eddie Carbone (Strong) – the honourable Brooklynite longshoreman with the dishonourable love for his niece Catherine (Phoebe Fox) – look like it’s being played out in a giant tank, accompanied by constant, rarefied music, perma-dazzling lights and a total lack of props or set, Van Hove both stresses and sanctifies the yawning distance between their lives and ours: he makes the downfall of one, regular guy seem astonishing.
‘Something perversely pure calls to me from his memory,’ says Michael Gould’s narrator Alfieri of Eddy, and we know exactly what he means: a guileless granite pillar of muscle and instinct, Strong’s stupendous Eddy is a force of nature. His tragedy is apparent from the beginning – like a shark, he can only move one way, and in the very first scene the unconsciously inappropriate way he touches the excellent Fox’s gawky Catherine marks out exactly what will lead to his downfall.
What is extraordinary is the way in which Van Hove and his tightly-wound cast make his unravelling unfold: Miller’s terse text is turned into some fantastic hybrid of British naturalism, Greek tragedy, lab experiment and religious ritual, that begins with angelic music and light and ends in an all-consuming fountain of blood.