Alan Ayckbourn on A View From The Bridge

Thirty-three years ago yesterday, one of the most lauded productions of Alan Ayckbourn’s long career opened at the National Theatre.

It was not one of his own plays, but Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge which Alan directed whilst on sabbatical from Scarborough for two years as a Company Director for the National Theatre.

The production starred Michael Gambon – who won an Olivier for his performance – and generated some of the best reviews Alan has ever received during his directing career; it undoubtedly established his credentials as a director in London (long known in the regions, but less well recognised at the time in London).

It transferred successfully to the West End and won Alan the Plays & Players Award for Best Director. Most impressively, Miller himself declared it the finest production of the play he had ever seen. To mark the anniversary, the blog reproduces Alan Ayckbourn’s own thoughts on the play from the programme for the production.

© National Theatre

One View by Alan Ayckbourn

Although it’s quite possible to see in Miller’s play, as with much of his work, undertones and occasionally even overtones of the political climate of its time (McCarthyism and the almost hysterical anti-Communist purges of the fifties) I chose to ignore these in favour of the more general, important issues that concern the piece.

In all plays, be they mine or other people’s, I search in production to create links of recognition with an audience, attempting to establish such common ground as there might be in order to draw the onlooker more closely into the play. Miller in a preface describes theatre as “an act of passion”.

By this he doesn’t rule out the possibility that it can also contain ideas and intellectual observation. What he means, I think, is that if a play fails to move you it fails to involve you. And if it fails to involve you then it fails to touch and thus excite you with its ideas.

Fortunately, A View From The Bridge has a great deal of common ground with which practically anyone can find points of contact. The central issue of an uncle with “too much love” for his niece is likely to touch anyone who has secretly felt love, however briefly, for the unattainable or untouchable. Nor is the love one sided. Catherine, too, although her emotions are less centred is later torn by her feelings for Eddie and Rodolpho.

It’s a play that spans generations. It’s for anyone who has ever felt jealousy or lust, anger or disappointment. Which probably includes most of the human race.

We approached the play with this in mind, exploring first this central relationship, the triangle of Eddie, Catherine and Rodolpho. We attempted to strike a balance. To see how Eddie could easily be infuriated by the brash, extrovert Rodolpho. His passion against the boy must at least have the seeds of logicality. It was also important that this feeling must grow gradually, from a small, irrational, niggling irritation to the vast all-consuming passion that finally destroys him. It is, after all, a tragedy about a very ordinary, unexceptional man. What I tend to call the “there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I” department. We must therefore see at the start an ordinary recognisable man.

Later, we explored the results the triangle had upon the surrounding characters. How Beatrice, for so much of the play a central, silent tower of strength, finally splits open under the strain of the unspoken truth. Of Marco’s gradual change from gentle, restrained husband to unreasoning avenger. Both these characters in their different ways find a terrible inner strength due to the pressure they undergo as onlookers.

Without betraying Miller’s ultimate intentions, we explored the humour in the play, too. There’s an old saying in the theatre amongst actors, “if you’re playing a miser, then stress his generosity”. Thus, too, if you’re directing a comedy, seek for its seriousness; if a tragedy the laughter.

If we were to care about the Carbones we must feel warmth for them. We had to find times when we could see them as the happy family they once were. The joy between them was very important.

We sought to parallel this through Alfieri’s own attitude as story teller. Like a man who starts out to tell a very different tale from the the one he finally comes to tell. The most educated and worldly-wise of the characters, even he sees the end far too late to avert the tragedy that follows.

It’s a masterly play, a small construction on the scale and complexity of a Swiss watch but with the power to strike like Big Ben.

by Alan Ayckbourn (© Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder).

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