Buying theatre tickets long before a show opens isn't an exact science, and sometimes I get it wrong. My biggest mistake recently was not to book ahead for what turned out to be the revival that swept all before it in the Olivier awards. I had seen a very impressive production of A View From The Bridge in London starring Ken Stott not so long ago, and I decided to skip the Young Vic's version. Like many people, I had never heard of Ivo van Hove the director.
Well, I have now. I should have trusted the judgment of Young Vic director David Lan, who brought van Hove to London. I eventually caught up with the show this week in my local cinema, thanks to a repeat of the NT Live broadcast from Wyndham's theatre. Reviewing Mark Strong's shattering performance as Eddie Carbone after he has won the Best Actor award is a bit like shipping coals to Newcastle, so I shall stick to a couple of observations about van Hove's direction.
His pared-down visual style strips away the realistic kitchen-sink depiction of 1940s waterfront New York and transforms the play into a universal Greek drama -- which is totally true to Arthur Miller's intention. It seems to me that van Hove's method has a lot in common with the approach of another great director whose work I saw this week -- Cheek By Jowl's Declan Donnellan, who also concentrates on the acting and the text.
The other thing I learned from this production is the power that can be generated by slowing down the action. There's a scene in the middle of the play in which Eddie is making casual conversation with Marco about Sicily and the life of its impoverished fishermen. That's the text, but this is a scene in which powerful emotions lurk in the subtext. Van Hove slows the scene down to a pace that is almost unbearable, with long pauses that generate so much tension that it's almost impossible to watch. Not many directors would take the deliberate risk of stretching the envelope quite so far.