Magazine article The Spectator

An Emotional Journey

Magazine article The Spectator

An Emotional Journey

Article excerpt

The day's rehearsal is about to commence. The actors sit or stand around chatting, telling anecdotes, prevaricating, pouring one last cup of coffee -- anything to avoid the moment when they have to begin committing emotionally and psychologically to Arthur Miller's text.

Why, I ask myself, is A View from the Bridge proving so difficult to rehearse? This is not due to laziness on the part of the company, but an awareness that the play's action unfolds as relentlessly and remorselessly as any Greek tragedy; demanding intensities of emotional and psychological expression which crash through conventional barriers and resonate in the world of myth. To have rehearsed Miller's text and mined its complexities means to have come into contact with something primal and truly disturbing.

Thank God for tea-breaks!

I reassure the actors that our imminent run-throughs and indeed performances in the theatre will be liberating and less draining than rehearsals. In a rehearsal one has to repeat, for only through repetition can the osmosis of a character and his or her physical and psychological journey be developed and fully realised. Through repetition comes freedom. The continual re-enactment of guilt towards wife and family, suppressed sexual desire for one's niece, and the self-destructive betrayal of tribal law can become exhausting -- even for the experienced Ken Stott, who plays Eddie Carbone.

Dread of my words 'one more time' makes him long for a fag-break. Things will certainly become easier when we move into the theatre and the actors undergo their journeys only once a night -- in front of a live audience whose attentive energy both crystallises their performances and feeds into adrenaline levels.

I write this during the latter stages of rehearsal, but the process began rather differently. The first day kicked off with a nervous read-through, when the actors received an initial sense of the play's journey and the sound of Miller's language and rhythms. The company chew over the words, intermittently committing to emotional moments in the drama. In the afternoon the designer Christopher Oram and myself show the set model box to the company, illustrating the physical dynamics of the street, the atmospheric Red Hook tenement block and the Carbones' living room in which most of the action takes place.

Costume chats come later when the actors have more of a sense of who they're playing.

I then deliver a lecture, placing the play in its historical context.

I tell them that in writing A View from the Bridge (1955) along with Death of a Salesman, All My Sons and The Crucible Miller produced four of the 20th century's greatest post-war tragedies. All this in an age not conducive to tragic form. In a century that had experienced two world wars and the literal and symbolic reductiveness of the Holocaust, a focus on one man's death seemed presumptuous. Absurdism in art seemed the natural product of the concentration camps -- despair elevated to philosophy and aesthetic form. Miller resisted the notion of absurdism, of values being subverted by irony. The function of art, he insisted, was not to sanction a view of man as victim but to constitute a resistant force.

What he wished to do was create modern tragedies; providing a moral framework and injecting meaning into experience. To his mind Ibsen, Chekhov and Strindberg had pointed the way, creating bourgeois tragedies which reflected a shifting social and political world. …

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