de Roovers adaptation of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge is set against the stunning backdrop of the Thames and Canary Wharf as part of this year’s Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. As the characters speak of immigration and our brothers, Rodolpho and Marco (Wouter Hendrickx and Adriaan Van Den Hoof), are travelling to a new land, as our narrator tells us the ship has arrived, the cast are subtly upstaged by the view of passing boats on the river. Amidst a ground of sandy stones sits the interior of our stage, a humble square platform, the home of Eddie Carbone, with his wife Beatrice and her niece Catherine (Robbie Cleiren, Sara de Bosschere and Sofie Sente). The play is accompanied by live music which undertones the text, eliciting feelings of excitement and intensity, bubbling the setup of the story and underpinning the emerging drama throughout.
The dialogue of Miller’s text is delivered with a feathery density, in that its poignant simplicity flows between the characters in a mode that makes it consistently engaging. It never stabs, but rather willows in the air, allowing even the moments of silence to be packed with a curious intensity. The story is clear and spoken with the sense of a beating heart; the essence of time is lurking beneath the surface; we are waiting for the climax from the start; we can sense it slowly building. It finally hits us, but there is something in the reactions of those around the final bullet which brings an anti-climactic closing. After a ninety-minute build up, the play doesn’t quite manage to pique at its dramatic end, but rather just stops. It feels under-thought, or under-rehearsed. Similarly, in an enthralling moment when Cleiren rips up the stage piece by piece (literally, breaks it apart into a scattering of individual square panels), the surrounding atmosphere doesn’t match up with the internal breakdown. There is little or no reaction from the family. It’s all rather half-hearted, which is a shame as physically destroying the interior of the home so captures the build-up of jealousy in Eddie’s mind and, in isolation, is captivating.
de Roovers is a company which works without a director. The thing I felt this production really needed: a director. Whilst it has vision and concept, it’s simply a case of uninteresting, simple blocking. Our narrator, Alfieri (Luc Nuyens) walks on awkwardly in most cases, not quite sure what to do with his hands. Cleiren stands for a large chunk of the beginning in one spot, de Bosschere clocks the audience quite a bit; the whole thing seems like a clumsy, unintended attempt at melodrama. Characters don’t really talk to each other, but mostly to us. It’s awkward and static. There’s nothing natural about it, yet it doesn’t seem purposeful enough to be non-naturalistic. It’s like the cast don’t trust the audience; they have to keep checking to make sure we’re concentrating. At the same time they are not fully committed themselves; distracted by passing boat music and planes; a nice idea which does not work in its execution. These moments breakaway from the story and struggle to refocus.
The performance makes a contrasting use of the interior and exterior space, which is really exciting; with the exterior constantly exposed, there’s nakedness, a vulnerability to those standing in the background. There is nowhere to hide. This could be taken further, making it even more exposing. Outside is natural, inside is still. Some of the most intense moments – lifting the chair, for instance – are skimmed over quickly, creating little dramatic impact at such an opportunity.
This is not a bad production. It just feels like it’s only half-way through rehearsals; like there are more discoveries to make. Moments of dance, tension or drama that are vital to the story’s progression are unfocused, more often than not. That being said, it’s nonetheless engaging and works beautifully in the realms of nature; two birds flying above the stage in the play’s final scene could not have been timed more perfectly. Of course, the chances of this happening every night is unlikely, but performing in the liveness of the outdoors permits for all kinds of moments like these; moments that are truly live theatrical experiences. Perhaps this production just needs to rethink about how these moments are engaged within the context of Miller’s text.
Review by Joseph Winer
Arthur Miller’s tragic masterpiece comes to a dramatic Thameside location in the UK première of
acclaimed Belgian company De Roovers’ adaptation, in a new English translation. A story of dock
workers and illegal migrants in search of the American dream is given new resonance against the
backdrop of the 21 st century London riverscape.
De Roovers, founded in 1994, is a theatre ensemble that works without a director. Starting with
challenging material — either classical or contemporary — the actors make and perform theatre
that, through compelling text, innovative approaches to design and an urgent performance style,
examines issues that are socially relevant
De Roovers presents
A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
PART OF GREENWICH + DOCKLANDS INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL 2017
Thursday 22 June-Sunday 25 June, 2017 at 9pm
At Peninsula Quays, Greenwich Peninsula, SE10 0QE