On 3 November 1987, Alan Ayckbourn’s extraordinarily acclaimed production of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge transferred from the National Theatre into the West End.
Award-winning, critically acclaimed and a commercial success, the production was a highlight of Alan’s two-year tenure at the National Theatre and was even praised by Miller himself who also declared its star, Michael Gambon, as ‘The best Eddie, ever!’
Today we’re reproducing Alan Ayckbourn’s own programme note for the production in which he discusses how he approached one of the classic plays from the 20th century.
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.
You can find out more about Alan Ayckbourn’s production of A View From The Bridge at his official website here.
Article by Alan Ayckbourn and copyright of Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.