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Mr Monkey sees A View From The Bridge at the Royal Exchange Theatre, 23rd May

Mr Monkey looking at the poster for A View From The Bridge Eddie Carbone (Con O'Neill) thinking about making a big mistake  (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo) Mr Monkey scampered into Manchester for the press night of Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

Mr Monkey examined the posters outside the theatre then trotted inside. He ran upstairs to see the Being Dotty exhibition in the Mezzanine Gallery, then went to examine the coffee table in the Education Lounge, which told him nothing as all the displays in the Lounge were about the 2011 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting. Mr Monkey picked up his humans' tickets, ran upstairs to his seat and sat down to wait for the start.

In the mid-'40s Arthur Miller dealt with an emotional crisis by hanging around with longshoremen on the New York docks. In 1955, when his marriage had collapsed because he was having an affair with Marilyn Monroe, Miller turned a story he had heard on the docks into a one act play, A View From The Bridge. This premiered, along with a second short play A Memory of Two Mondays, in New York the same year. The following year A View From The Bridge was relaunched in London as a two act play.

The play depicts the effect of the arrival of a pair of brothers, illegal immigrants from Sicily, on the household of Eddie Carbone, a second generation Italian-American living in Red Hook, Brooklyn. One of the 'submarines' (so-called because they arrived in New York "under the water" instead of visibly on a ship) not only doesn't conform to Eddie's fairly rigid ideas of masculinity (or, indeed, Italian hair colouring) but also expands Eddie's niece's horizons, even suggesting she cross the Brooklyn Bridge to visit Manhattan. Things do not end well for anyone.

Eddie Carbone (Con O'Neill) lecturing Catherine (Leila Mimmack) and Beatrice (Anna Francolini) over the dinner table (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo) Mr Monkey was impressed by the staging of the play from the very first scene where a combination of lighting and sound thoroughly evokes the atmosphere of a busy port. The set is effective, one half being permanently set up as the main room in the Cabrone apartment and the other alternating between being a street and a lawyer's office. The sprial staircase is particularly striking - nothing says working class Brooklyn like rusting metal.

The cast of this production are excellent. Ian Redford is good as Alfieri, with the rather strange dual role of narrator and on-stage lawyer; he's the same person, but the narrator's role is distanced from action. As the lawyer, he is the voice of reason attempting to divert Eddie from his path of destruction and forms a benchmark against which Eddie's increasing, jealousy-driven mania is measured. Con O'Neill brillantly depicts Eddie Carbone's disintegration from respectable worker to a rampaging bear outside the pale of decent society. Even his voice deteriorates.

Beatrice and Catherine - the two women who love Eddy, are loved by him, and consquently suffer most from his actions - are well portrayed by Anna Francolini and Leila Mimmack respectively.

Marco, the elder illegal immigrant, is solidly played by Nitzan Sharron but is overshadowed for most of the play by his younger brother Rudolpho. Much of Marco's role is, of course, to provide a contrast to Rudolpho, which rather limits the part until the later stages of the play. Ronan Rafferty plays Rudolpho's humourous side to great effect and deals expertly with changes in his behaviour in response to Catherine's increasing affection and Eddie's increasing hostility.

There are some large crowd scenes - the people of Red Hook almost form a Greek chorus commenting on the developing tragedy - and many of the cast have two roles, which they all play well.

Although the play is a tragedy, there are a lot of comic lines throughout (though mainly in the first act, and certainly not in the second half of the second act), and these played well with the audience.

Mr Monkey thoroughly enjoyed this production, his attention was grabbed at the very beginning and held right up to the end, and his only disappointment was that at no point does any steam come up through the manhole cover in the centre of the stage.

A View From The Bridge runs until June 25th 2011.

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