OVERNIGHT REVIEW OF SOUTHEND DRAMA SOCIETY: A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
by Tom King
IF Southend Drama Society was a car, it would be something like a Volvo – not flashy or trailing its upmarket credentials, just impeccable engineering and performance from nose to tail.
SDC's production of A View from the Bridge, Arthur Miller's classic play set on the New York dockside in the 1950s, keeps up their company tradition of solid quality and strong casting that sometimes rises to brilliance.
Kay Banning's direction is well paced (this is a dialogue-heavy play and I have sat through some productions that moved a bit slowly). Using a compact but multi-layered set, she manages to create a sense of the sprawling world “from Brooklyn Bridge to the breakwater where the open sea begins”, all within the intimate space of the Dixon Studio.
It was brave of SDC to stage a drama that relies so heavily on its portrait of a distinct ethnic community, but the cast have mastered the Brooklyn accents and mannerisms to the point where you really can believe that a chunk of the New York waterside has been airlifted in to Westcliff.
This longshore territory, with its population of hard-grafting Italian-Americans, forms the background to a modern classical-style tragedy. Eddie Carbone is no Olympian god or Greek hero, just an ordinary, decent, if none-too-articulate dockworker. Like Othello, he is ultimately destroyed by jealousy, a primal force which he barely recognises in himself, but which tears him and his loving family apart in a welter of grief and bloodshed.
Bill Peel, who is also co-director, is a strong and convincing central presence as Eddie. Within seconds of his first appearance, you are rooting for Eddie, despite his obvious deep weaknesses and flaws, even when these flaws culminate in an act of deep treachery.
Also doing strong work are the young actress Sophie Docherty, as Catherine – Eddie's niece, whom he has raised in his family, and the object of a repressed passion – and Charlie Mellor as the lawyer Alfieri, who does his best to stall the unfolding tragedy with the advice “settle for half”.
The bright star of the night, though, is undoubtedly Gemma Fiore, the wife whose loyalty to Eddie never wavers, even to the end. She does not so much act, as transform herself into Beatrice Carbone, summoning up an electric charge of emotion which had me in tears more than once. Gemma Fiore won the best actress (straight play) award in the 2015 Echo 'Tommy' awards, for Abigail's party, and here she scores another undoubted triumph.
A View from the Bridge is now 60 years old, but it has lost none of its power. The fact that it revolves around the topic of illegal immigration and community loyalty makes it as topical and morally challenging as ever.
Paul Jennings and Simon Jones as the two men who have escaped from the grinding poverty of rural Italy and found refuge in Eddie's home, convey just what it is like to be a desperate illegal immigrant in a country that holds both hope and fear. They form a key part of a production which reminds us compellingly that tragedy is not just something that happens on the theatre stage.
A View from the Bridge
Palace Theatre (Dixon Studio), Westcliff
Nightly at 8pm until Sat Apr 30, mat Sat 3pm
Box office: 01702351135