Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge: Duke of York’s Theatre London & more on books later…

AVFTB It's only just started and is still in preview, but the Duke of York's theatre was packed for the matinee on the Saturday afternoon of 24 Jan 09.  What do you expect?  We see a return to the boards for Ken Stott in the lead role and it was clear that many had come to see him and him alone.  Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Consenting Adults, The Perfect Storm) has crossed the pond to star alongside him.  Relative newcomer Hayley Atwell (Brideshead Revisited) puts in an excellent performance as the niece Catherine.  And there's more.  But first, the story, taken from the theatre's website:

Acknowledged as one of the great classics of the twentieth century, Arthur Miller’s electrifying and deeply moving play A View From The Bridge proved to be a milestone in American theatrical history: it will be rediscovered in a new production starring Ken Stott, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Hayley Atwell, directed by Olivier Award-winning Lindsay Posner.

Dockworker Eddie Carbone has made a good life for himself and his wife and niece in 1950’s Brooklyn. From an immigrant family himself, Eddie is happy to house and protect his wife’s Italian cousins who arrive illegally in pursuit of the ‘American Dream’. What Eddie doesn’t know is that this act of kindness will have a shattering effect on his whole life, and the lives of those he loves.

Arthur Miller is arguably America’s finest playwright, with his other landmark works including The Crucible and Death of a Salesman.

There were other actors in this – many of whom I had never heard of – who delivered excellent and noteable performances: Allan Corduner as Alfieri; Harry Lloyd as Rodolpho; Gerard Monaco as Marco.

There's an interesting article about the production – written by the director, Posner – at the Spectator and an interview with Stott at the Daily Telegraph.

Where Stott delivered, Mastrantonio possibly delivered more than she bargained for.  To spare the lady some blushes, I felt obliged to have a quiet word with an usherette on leaving to suggest she let the production team know that in one scene in act one, Mastrantonio's posture on a chair and dress length meant that she had a lot more on display than she'd probably imagine (think almost Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, but definitely not quite).  If the usherette at first appeared to think I was a bit of a nutcase, another lady who came up to ask a question backed me up; she had been sitting in the row behind me.  Because of this, I shall not be divulging in which row I was sitting.  But I do hope the message gets through.

Given a little time, I'm sure the odd small creases will be ironed out: such as the loss of Brooklyn accents, which tended to happen when there were only British actors on stage.  This was only the second performance, I believe, and while it wasn't a standing ovation at the end, a few people did rise from their seats and the clapping was overtly enthusiastic.

The play runs until May and is a powerhouse of a production.  There are young actors here who I'd be delighted to see more of in the future.  And Stott?  Well this paying customer can't get enough of him, hence the train travel of some 150 miles each way, putting up with a restricted tube service on a Saturday (not foreseen), surviving the Chelsea supporters on the tube (not foreseen), and flagging a black cab to make sure I arrived on time after the bus didn't take me as far as I'd hoped (an additional £7).  I wasn't the only one.  The couple sitting next to me had made a journey from Manchester; and the hubbie was on his feet at the end, vigorously clapping.

I last saw Stott on stage in Art at the Wyndam's back in 1996.  The play ran for 1.5 hours and had no interval.  Unfortunately, I had to pay a visit to the Ladies just as he launched into a monologue, which I could just about hear, but not see.  I have always regretted not paying another visit (to the play and not the loo).  Afterall, back in those days when I lived in London, I did see Terry Johnson's play Dead Funny three times, covering two casts.  But then, it was dead funny and it moved to the Savoy theatre which was just plain lush.  The Wyndam's had little bucket seats made for little Victorians who could leave their bustles at home for a night out at the theatre.  The Savoy seats would have accepted a bustle, or two.

So, if you're in London and want to see a good play, with some great acting, I highly recommend A View from the Bridge.  If you are in need of company and feeling very generous – enough to buy me a ticket – I'll happily accompany you.

And to help you have a value-added good time: just a few doors north on St Martin's Lane (at the junction with Cecil Court, north-side) there's a pretty good Indian restaurant.  (I always judge an Indian restaurant by the quality of its Chicken Dhansak – very good, but not the best I have tasted; that honour was in a certain establishment in Chiswick in the 90s – I tested it out two weeks ago when I was at the same theatre and in the same seat for a Mandy Patinkin concert.  The concert had dire reviews in the MSM, by the way.  I remained a fence-sitter.  And if you, like me, love the Dhansak, then it is best to avoid Leeds.  Perhaps someone could enlighten me, but what the hell is Persian about the addition of pineapple chunks?  Only in Leeds…)

And, being so close to Cecil Court, the temptation to visit Goldsboro Booksthe book collectors' bookseller and a great support to the Macmillan New Writing authors – is something to test you and succumb to.  They specialise in signed first editions and M.R.Hall's The Coroner (Macmillan) is a current feature.

That's another aspect of train travel: time to read.  I am currently trying to read three novels at the same time, unusual for me, but Hall's The Coroner was in the back-pack for this journey and it's shaping up nicely.  If there's there one thing I like to specialise in on this blog, it's debut authors.  And what a cracking start to the year we've had so far with Tom Bale, Neil Cross and now Matthew Hall.  And it's only January!  Good too, to see that they have different publishers which suggests that a decent few publishers have taken a punt on newbies for 2009.

Crime-in-translation is also taking a punt with the Netherlands this year (is Scandinavia about to become old news?).  Where the Dutch love Nicci French, John Connolly & others, we are to see the arrival-in-translation of Simone Van Der Vlugt (Harper) and a second novel from Saskia Noort with Bitter Lemon Press (both published in the NL by AmboAnthos which specialises in "Literaire thrillers" and includes the above UK exports amongst its major successes).

What a shame we live in times of recession and I don't mean to be trite or insincere here.  It must hurt these authors to know that they have really good opportunities, but in markets that are the hardest of hard in which to sell at this time.  So, if you're cutting back on book-buying, don't forget the libraries as you won't want to miss them.

Hall's The Coroner is partly set in Wales, where the author lives, and in areas which I love.  He's obviously done the M4-west journey a few times as he knows that the "rain in Spain falls mainly in…" Wales, with either Severn Bridge crossing leading to putting on the windscreen wipers or suddenly increasing the speed to the max.  Ah yes, I left Wales this morning having seen frost on my car to arrive in an unusually mild London and return to yet more RAIN.

But yes, it was all worth it.  Stott may be a physically diminutive creature crossing those boards, but he has a presence, from the heart, that is a sock-it-to-you bumper-pack of entertainment and strength and intelligence.  And I do so love his mannerisms.  Beautiful!  More please.  So if you feel the need of company and can stump up the ticket price, I'll sit next to you.  Not the best offer you've ever had, I agree.  But let's share our enthusiasm and let's make sure that Stott is on the map again.  He can do it for himself, just by talent, but I do like to hype occasionally, don't you too?