View from the bridge with Mark Strong

What’s on Stage – interview with Mark Strong about Eddie Carbone and here a further Q&A with MS 🙂

 I’ve seen Vftb a few weeks ago but it is the kind of play that keeps lingering around in your brain for a while. Here’s the way the Young Vic page summarised it very effectively:

“Arthur Miller confronts the American dream in this dark and passionate tale. In Brooklyn, longshoreman Eddie Carbone welcomes his Sicilian cousins to the land of freedom. But when one of them falls for his beautiful niece, they discover that freedom comes at a price. Eddie’s jealous mistrust exposes a deep, unspeakable secret – one that drives him to commit the ultimate betrayal. “

I’d say this probably pre-empts the tension in the play a bit too much, the production is actually much better at keeping you guessing and keeping the suspicion unspoken. This play was written after the Crucible and adopts quite a different style. Instead of a continuous flow of action we get moments of action linked together by explanations and opinions from the local lawyers who acts almost as a narrator at times. This detaches you from the actions a bit while at the same time providing different options and inputs, we don’t see any incriminating actions per se, but there is enough in terms of dialogues, suspicions expressed openly by all other characters to tell the story about Eddie Carbone’s facts. The story of guilt builds up less through what we actually see then through what we hear. Which in a way allows us to maintain sympathy for Carbone for quite a long time during the play. Or maybe his very convincing protective fatherly attitude keeps you guessing beyond the point where logic tells you otherwise.

Luke Norris (Rodolpho), Emun Elliott (Marco), Phoebe Fox (Catherine) and Mark Strong (Eddie) , Photo by Jan Versweyveld

Otherwise the play is full of Miller’s obsessions about attracting towards younger women, conflicts in marriage coming from it, unfulfilled sexual tensions. From that point of view it didn’t feel all that original. Also, although I’m not against changes in style – I felt the external narration by the lawyer was effective – I would have much preferred to get more character interaction instead.

But then again at the point where the young niece decides to leave the house with her lover and marry him in spite of Carbone’s wishes the tensions and relationships have been stretched so taught that there is nothing left to be said. Or even the smallest word would cause an explosion, which unavoidably happens.

The production has won high praise for its stark efficiency and I fully agree. All we get is a sort of courtyard in front of a house entrance with a delimiting ledge used by all actors to sit on it when they are not in action. Nothing else is needed and it was once again a reminder that theatre is principally about character development and acting and not props.

The play starts and ends with a sort of ‘liquid’ cycle – the mundane washing after a day of hard work at the starts becomes something completely different at the chilling conclusion.

Mark Strong (Eddie), Nicola Walker (Beatrice), Phoebe Fox (Catherine) and Luke Norris (Rodolpho). Photo by Jan Versweyveld

I think where the production shows its brilliancy is in filling the silences Miller has left in the play. Normally we would have a sequence of scenes but here they are tied together with a thread of ever increasing tension. The moments when characters just look at each other, wordless are the strongest; what is left unsaid hangs heavy in the air and towards the end dry beats of sound only increase the sense of impending doom.

It takes very good acting to pull this off (and pull it off to the rooftop of the theatre where I was perched in this case). It is pretty good overall but exceptional in only one case, and that is Eddie Carbone himself, Mark Strong. I was taken by surprise by the fact that it was all in American accents, I know silly of me as this makes sense but it is always a bit of a sensitive issue when the actors are from around here. I thought it really was natural and fully believable as everyday speech in one case, and that was Strong. The rest were ok but I felt you could hear them work at it and it didn’t feel natural at all times. With Strong you were never distracted by it, you never even thought about it.

Mark Strong (Eddie) and Phoebe Fox (Catherine) in A View from the Bridge. Photo by Jan Versweyveld

He’s a slight, wiry man with very charismatic presence. You could see easily how he would be a leader or a significant figure in the community. And he plays the father figure in such a warm and convincing way it’s hard to see reality through it, which is exactly as it is supposed to be. He’s not a character to be vilified, though you see in the end how he refuses to search within himself for the truth and thinks it is only out there.

It’s not a story of heroes, there’s certainly no catharsis; it’s a story of lives gone wrong, of a character with potential greatness making the wrong choices again and again. But played like Strong does what you are left with is sadness and pity for the characters, not hate. And I guess therein lies his achievement.

Phoebe Fox (Catherine), Mark Strong (Eddie) and Nicola Walker (Beatrice) in A View from the Bridge. Photo by Jan Versweyveld

It’s a brilliant production where Ivo von Hove and Versweyveld find exactly the right means to tell the story, no more no less. It is finely tuned and very well judged. A perfect example of ‘less is more’. (their Antigone I saw during the weekend was less successful in that respect).

The play will not be one of my favourites, too many of those obsessive themes bouncing around with too little of maybe more relevant themes, that’s not to say individual destinies are not interesting. It just isn’t a play of a lifetime like the Crucible is for example, it just isn’t as rich. In order to be really interesting it needs the main character to be memorable. And it is what Mark Strong has achieved with his Carbone. I am glad I saw this version of it as I doubt in a traditional setting and with a lesser performer I’d be very interested in revisiting it.

Everyone else was good , but there just isn’t enough time to see much of everyone else. Unlike it seems the critics I wasn’t taken with the acting of Phoebe Fox (Catherine, the niece) – way too petulant for my taste for way too long (got on my nerves), I did like Nicola Walker (Beatrice- the wife) much better and I really felt for her trying to hold on to a husband who is drifting ever farther away.

On an aside, I did think all the while Marco was really familiar, but I didn’t have my binoculars and couldn’t really see the faces in detail from up where I was. After the play I looked at production photos and I instantly recognised him, Emun Elliot! Remember the BBC Series The Paradise?  That’s the one! I’ve been lucky enough to be on set and have a funny picture amongst period corsets with him 😉 Such a sweetheart! No wonder I didn’t recognise him immediately during the play though as he looked significantly bigger and stronger than the rest, which of course fits Marco and i remember him as this smiley, gentle man, not much taller than me with an adorable Scottish accent. (Which tells me the rest of the cast are not very tall either if he stands out among them 😉 )

Anyway, wish I’d had time to check out the cast list before I went to the theatre as I would have loved to say hello, in spite of the awfully rainy day. Good to see him again on stage in any case 🙂

Back to the play, in case you want to ‘check out the competition’ 😉 or just watch an interesting play you can do so on the 26th of March when it will be broadcast international live in cinemas through NT live. I’d really recommend it!

A View from the Bridge

Direction Ivo van Hove 
Design and Light  Jan Versweyveld
Costumes An D’Huys
Sound Tom Gibbons
Dramaturgy Bart Van den Eynde 
UK Casting Julia Horan CDG 
US Casting Jim Carnahan 
Associate Director Jeff James 
Associate Designer James Turner
Associate Lighting Designer  Nicki Brown 
Associate Sound Designer Alex Twiselton 

With
Emun Elliott
Phoebe Fox
Michael Gould
Richard Hansell
Pádraig Lynch
Luke Norris
Mark Strong
Nicola Walker

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Olivier nominations 2015 x2!

–> Update, because i want to keep Yael Farber’s generous and thoughtful words with the news of the nomination so i can always go back to this post and remember the wonderful feeling of the day 🙂

What a day! Congratulations first of all to all the nominees!! Well done and it is a great achievement 🙂 Details of all nominations on the Oliviers page. I’ve tried not to think too much about awards as i’m not really objective in my opinions and i tend to care too much if people/stuff i like are in them and care too little if they are not (yes, sour grapes and all that 😉 ). But, i live in London and see a lot of plays and operas so on some level i always get involved, i hear about things, read reviews, have my own opinions. Less so with the BAFTAs, but even there i certainly care more about the BAFTAs than i do about the Oscars these days. Mainly because they are closer to my areas of interest and work.  The Oliviers are, as much as i understand, among the many local awards probably the most respected and coveted. Probably also because shows that tend to get generally really good reviews will be recognised at the awards, so there is a feeling of consistency. I was certainly interested this year as i’d seen more shows than usual; we’d discussed some predictions with friends, many of which were fulfilled. Some things i secretly wished would happen, but didn’t really dare to hope.. And then while being harassed from one meeting to the next on a truly horrible Monday the announcements hit and my cultural universes collided in the most amazing way! My two favourite artists in the whole wide world BOTH got nominated for an Olivier!!! Richard Armitage really, actually, wonderfully got nominated for his John Proctor in the Old Vic Crucible and… the one and only 😉 Jonas Kaufmann got his second nomination to an Olivier for Grieux in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut & Andrea Chenier/ Giordano, both for the Royal Opera House!! I never though i’d actually get an event where my opera and theatre interests would merge, or get to write a post where they would end up sitting naturally next to each other 🙂 I’ve always meant to ‘introduce’ them to each other around here but never found the time for a proper post and now reality has taken me by surprise! 🙂 Wonderfully so! I’m very pleased. Some things i understand much better, like the opera scene –> for one, it is much smaller than the theatre scene and i just have many more years of experience (i’ve guessed and actually agree with 90% of the nominations there – doesn’t make me any less happy to see it confirmed!). I am glad Richard Jones also gets some recognition, good opera directors like him are very few and far between and we need to really celebrate them. Especially considering the amount of tosh i’ve seen lately even at big international houses like the ROH. I can’t even begin to say how many times i have sat in a theatre recently and wished the opera directors were half as good as the theatre directors of the pieces if was seeing. And a lot of the plays were in modern settings, but none dipped into the pretentious, self-indulgent, navel-gazing concepts that i am frankly sick of seeing on the opera stage!  Having said that, all opera production nominated deserve their praise, they were good ones and we need more of these! As for Jonas himself, well in a way it is long overdue really, i think he actually deserved it back in 2007 when he was Don Jose in Carmen at the ROH, which was certainly some of the best singing in this role i ever heard and without a doubt the best acting of it on an opera stage 🙂 Not that Chenier wasn’t amazing, it certainly was some of the best singing at the ROH in years 🙂 But the Oliviers are very ‘London’ and West- end. Weirdly it can take some time even for an international star to become a household name in London, an integral part of its artistic live. And i think Jonas truly become part of ‘London artistic life’ over the last 12 months when he’s spend more time than ever here, did two new productions very successfully, was present at all kinds of artistic events around town, sang to the locals and subscribers at the Wigmore, stepped outside the boundaries of classical music listeners on BBC Radio3 and really connected with the general public, he even got invited to Desert Island Discs! (as a friend of mine put it, it’s a sign you have ‘arrived’ in London if you are on DID!). It seems he finally has and i wouldn’t actually be surprised if he won it this time round. And he better put his tux on and come to London and be there if it happens! 🙂 I know his shelves are heaving with awards but this is the Oliviers! And hey, the Olivier ceremony happens at the Royal Opera House, it’d be just like coming to his second home 😉 and here he is, the Chenier’s last poem before the execution (it’s a cheeky filming one so that is why it is wobbly, but you’ll get the idea i think 🙂 ) and here is a euronews video clip about the opera, unfortunately i can find it in many languages, but not English, this is the German version In terms of theatre there is much more variety and there are trends that can go in opposite directions. People tend to say theatre in London is more traditional, but actually it is ‘story driven’ and good story telling is paramount. Because  of that there is maybe less appetite to ‘go crazy’ with concepts on stage which is why i think critics tend to push and favour innovation. So the directors who will manage to be innovative and modern but also tell a story well will certainly be featured significantly at awards. Acting is generally of a very high standard and there are significant amounts of new plays being written and staged. It’s probably the most competitive theatrical environment in the world and at the same time it is big business. There is old and well established acting tradition, but there is also ‘establishment’ and a constant tension with trying to be innovative, fresh, open and particularly on the talent side that is an uphill battle. There may be a slight whiff of snobbism towards actors with a TV background rather than a classical theatre path but that is easily overridden by the quality of performance and because the public tend to be experienced and knowledgeable, they are also demanding and it’s often the case that the very good plays and performances will result in extended runs. This year’s nominations are a refection of all these kinds of sometimes conflicting trends. Check out the play with by far the biggest numbers of nominations and you’ll see the push for innovation and change 🙂 And the wide spread of awards among plays is surely an attempt to give recognition to many outstanding performances and plays during last year. (By the way Olivier nominations seem to run from the last one to the nomination day as some things i thought were highlights of last year were actually nominated in 2014 and some things nominated in 2015 i haven’t seen yet and the run is ongoing). I am very very happy that the Oliviers finally gave recognition to the Crucible! I think they wanted to send  clear message considering what has happened at other awards in town. It’s certainly quite extraordinary how they chose to message their appreciation of the play, they decided to single out only 1 individual! Which i think is quite extraordinary in itself! “An imposing Richard Armitage starred in internationally acclaimed director Yaël Farber’s chillingly atmospheric, exhilarating take on Arthur Miller’s classic American drama.” Although they give credit to Yael for the production, she’s actually not individually nominated under directors. I do think that is a pity as i think she was a significant catalyst in the final product. But they singles out one extraordinary performance: “Richard Armitage provided a colossal presence at the heart of The Crucible, playing a prowling John Proctor, whose very being balanced on a knife edge.” Considering how often Richard has stressed that for him this was an ensemble work i wonder how this sits with him, i don’t think he fully agrees with them 🙂  But however he may feel about being singled out like this, it still is our right as well as the Olivier’s choosers to point the finger at him and say: ‘accept it or not, we feel you were outstanding and special’ (deal with it!):-) Let’s remember what Richard thought of John Proctor (DT interview for the cinema) – and the look in his eyes pretty much tells the story of how much Proctor meant to him 🙂 And here are some more insights from a recent interview in Theatermania. (try that kind of schedule, opera singers of the world 😉 …just kidding!) I don’t know why they chose the way they did, but i fully agree about the extraordinary and unique quality of his individual performance. And i agree from the perspective of having seen quite a few of the nominees of 2014 as well as 2015. For me the Crucible means more than the other nominees, but that’s also because the play itself is closer to my heart as a story in itself. Although many of the others fascinated and interested me and even touched me, this one reached deepest. I don’t know who will win, i can sort of make an educated guess, which wouldn’t surprise me. But of course a little sparkle of hope is always there, who knows 🙂 I am just pleased that the acting community has given him a big thumbs up for his talent and exceptional work. Come back and do more, Richard! There are other nominations i’m also very happy about, here is just one of many: Wheeldon’s ballet interpretation of Shakespeare’s famous Winter’s Tale was one of my dance highlights from last year. A classical, full length narrative ballet is a rarity these days and everything about this was fantastic, from the original music to the brilliant choreography and dancing. It was the RB at its very very best!  But, there are also some unforgivable omissions, one of which is really huge and i am very sure i will not be the only one asking why??? Helen McCrory’s breathtaking, shattering Medea at NT is missing from the best actress nominations. I’ve seen 3 Greek plays in the past year and this was by far the best production and the best performance (much much more powerful in my opinion than the Electra at the Old Vic… ‘establishment’). I also find it rather sad that Adrian Schiller’s Hale isn’t on the supporting actors nominations; there are many ensemble members of the Crucible worthy of recognition but in comparison to other performances nominated in the category i thought his was much more powerful, human and convincing. I also thought the lighting for the Crucible was by far the best i’ve seen … sadly i think these details have fallen victim to the perceived ‘traditional’ nature of the production and the general desire to recognise innovation… But, there is more recognition than i was expecting and i am very happy about that. I’m less happy that fate has given me this gift and at the same time delivered a strong blow to my backside…. So, given my two boys will be celebrated in London in April you’d think i’d be there to say a Bravo and celebrate as well, but no.. the ceremony happens on a day i’m actually not even in the UK and i won’t even be able to watch it.  It’s a downer of incredible proportions as the likelihood of both of them being at the same event ever again is a big fat zero… The one thing that would maybe compensate me for not being able to be in London for this is both of them winning it! Now i wonder what are the chances of that? 🙂 Crossing fingers… and toes…