Last night I saw a poignant and staggeringly sad production of Arthur Miller’s 1955 play A View From The Bridge, at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre. I left the theatre feeling bereft. A performance The West End would have been proud to produce. I have to confess to being a bit of a theatre snob, having been privileged enough to work front of house at The Old Vic Theatre, and for Arthur Miller at the Young Vic Theatre in 1987′.
As a young wannabe I approached this quiet self-possessed intellectual, (a giant of a gentleman) and giddily told him that I was a Youth Theatre Member, and without coming up for air, of all that I was involved in, and please may I have his autograph. Of course he quietly obliged, and with that wise, slow intellectual smile (the one captured in the programme), checked me before proceeding to buy his lunch.
I was young and naive at the time……..But that did not stop me from realising something of the greatness of this enigmatic human being. If Marilyn Monroe loved him, then so did I. At the time his autobiography was being launched amongst a blaze of publicity, the once marker of a full life lived, and at that same time, It felt as though I had the whole of my life ahead of me, and I did…….. But sure enough just like his brilliantly grafted and gripping, historical autobiography warned me, “Time Bends: a life.” and so it does, and sometimes sooner rather than later.
I came from what I now recognise as a proud working class family. Moved out by a generation from the East End, to E4, Grandparents originally stock of Bow and Hackney. My Greats and Grandparents knew of the real bleak struggles of surviving the great depression and the aftermath of poverty left in its wake. The tragic drama of poverty was part of every day life for the working classes of London. My Nan, the mother of eleven, lived hardships as a mother, who took in other people’s laundry to make ends meet, whilst her husband lived and allegedly played away. She endured the excruciatingly painful loss of 5 of her children to childhood illness. A tragedy. Later as they were re-located and the economy improved, so did the quality of their hard-earned lives.
Whilst across the waters there was hope. These words had been written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, to honour the Statue of Liberty, and are inscribed upon its base.
“Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:/I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
The ‘golden door’ was of course the harbour of New York City, which was thrown open to thousands of European immigrants at the time that these very lines were written. And there became a kind of exploitation of the migrant workers, who knew they were leaving behind a harsher reality, one often of starvation. It was the survival of the fittest, to do low paid work which the citizens of the industrial nations would rather not do themselves. Of course in an Economic downturn these were the first workers to lose their jobs, and often not qualifying for benefits. Miller watched firsthand, the italian descendent dock workers enduring medieval working condition in what he described from the Brooklyn bridge as “the waterfront as a wild west, a desert beyond the law” inspiring him to write “A View”
Miller said of his play “The play’s main significance for me lay in its unpeeling of process itself, the implacability of a structure in life. For around me I felt a wasting vagrancy of mind and spirit, the tree of life turning into a wandering vine”
Millers play is a fatal tale of poverty, over protective, distorted love, struggling hopes, prejudice, jealousy, revenge and honour, within extended family. Tim Treslove plays Eddie the down to earth once lovable main character and male head of the extended family, with a proud fierce and emotive compassion, who desperately fights to the very end for his lost respect. A performance which moves the audience to tears.
But for me the performance of the night went to Gina Isaac who plays Beatrice, Eddie’s suffering wife, hurting and deprived of the healing of her husbands physical intimacy. It is such a deeply contemplative performance and heartbreaking. The knife stabs and twists at the point that she looks into her husbands eyes and firmly but gently delivers her line
“when will I be a wife again”,
The answer it seems is to be never.