Reviewed by Lucy Hook
The EUTC, when not providing a valuable platform for student written scripts, has a history of tackling the giants of the theatrical canon this Arthur Miller classic is no exception. A second generation Italian American couple and their orphaned niece are tested by the arrival of the wife’s cousins from the homeland. Marco and Rodolpho have come to Brooklyn to seek their fortune and fulfil the American dream, but find the land of the free oppresses its citizens in ways that will be darkly revealed.
It’s become a bit of a cliché to relate any American narrative to current events across the Pond, but it’s hard to resist drawing parallels between this explosive portrayal of fragile masculinity and the despotic figures currently occupying our headline space. Taking on the role of the play’s antihero, Eddie, Paddy Echlin’s command of the stage was an extraordinary exploration of obsession and control, sensitively negotiated against Eleanor Crowe’s sweet and hopeful Catherine. They were joined in their family unit by Tilly Botsford as Beatrice. These three actors worked together to gradually push a strained domestic dynamic to its limits, and to reveal the tension growing out of everything left unsaid.
Henry Coldstream and Leo Sartain played the Italian cousins whose arrival in Brooklyn changes everything. Whilst the object of Catherine’s romantic desire, Rodolpho, was portrayed with a sinister charm, Sartain’s reserved and controlled energy in his approach to Marco was carefully considered. He could have easily fallen victim to stereotyping the character with overplayed caricatures of an Italian native, but he negotiates the parameters of the role with a graceful maturity. Although never quite slipping into the realm of unfiltered testosterone, the stage space bubbled and simmered with the fragility of the characters’ masculinity and the claustrophobia of a neighbourhood where everybody talks.
The costumes and set were both excellent, with the exposed living room working to illustrate the tension between interior and exterior that finally explodes in the play’s second act; the whole crew should be praised for their creative manipulation of the stage space. The characters that periodically invaded the home space to invite Eddie bowling provided an excellent framing device, charting the patriarch’s loss of control and descent into obsession.
Despite holding its own amongst the most professional of Bedlam plays that I’ve seen, the shifting locale of the action is tricky to pull off. The suggestion of the other ‘submarine’ characters, the immigrants who had arrived ‘underwater’ from Italy to live upstairs from the family, were rushed and seemed like an afterthought. Similarly, Miller’s inclusion of a chorus figure Alfieri, played conservatively but authentically by Peter Morrison, was at times disconnected and lacked the sense of authority necessary for a narrative role.
Overall, though, the production successfully brought the streets of Brooklyn to life. Those tricky American accents were held with relative ease and the tone was controlled throughout, resulting in a chilling but ultimately satisfying climax. Andra Gavin as director has handled Arthur Miller’s mastery of tension with maturity and sensitivity.