Set play

26th January 2001 at 00:00
A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. Harrogate Theatre.

The title of Arthur Miller's 1956 play, A View from the Bridge, refers to New York's Brooklyn Bridge, from which the play's lawyer narrator, Alfieri, observes a private tragedy in the context of the wider community.

When it was first produced in Britain, the censor objected to the fact that at one point the working-class anti-hero, Eddie Carbone, kisses another man on the lips - today, it is the themes of incest and illegal immigration that are more likely to disturb.

Set in the Italian community, the play shows how Eddie's possessive affection for Catherine, the niece he and his wife have brought up, is threatened when she falls in love with Rodolpho, an illegal immigrant. To keep them apart, Eddie informs on Rodolpho and is then killed in a fight with the younger man's avenging brother.

Kenny Ireland, who directs the play at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, says that the current climate of hysteria about asylum seekers "and using the law in a homophobic way" has renewed the play's relevance.

"The main theme - as with much of Miller's work - is the American Dream," he says. "(Eddie is) looking for a reassurance about what's right and wrong in American life." A modern audience is probably, he believes, "more cynical than the play's original audience, so it takes a lot more to draw it into Eddie's destrutive obsession".

Is Eddie's relationship with Catherine abusive? "No, I don't think so. They are both rather innocent, or unaware of their real feelings," he says. But it remains a challenge for any director to create a sense of sexuality between Eddie and his niece without melodrama.

At Harrogate, director Rob Swain calls his touring production "a combination of an intense domestic drama and a Greek tragedy". Its central dilemma is "should you be driven by personal notions of honour or do you have to submit to society's norms - how can we be ourselves?" Eddie is "trapped by the received notions of manhood, of what it means to be an Italian docker in the 1950s - he can't see beyond those values".

When he finds out that Rodolpho can cook, "he thinks he's not a man".

Is the play still relevant? "The relationship between Eddie and Catherine will be recognised by all adolescents," says Swain. "How many rights do parents have over their children? Should they interfere in your choice of boyfriend? And when do you make the break from childhood into adulthood?" And, as current controversies about asylum seekers remind us, "there is the law and there is humanity - which is the moral conundrum posed by this play".

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, from February 10 to March 10 (tickets: 0131 248 4848); Harrogate Theatre, January 26 to February 17 (tickets: 01423 502 116)

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