SUDS’ latest production had just three weeks to prepare until showtime, meaning that the pressure was on.
After attending last week’s performance of ‘A View From the Bridge‘, I can gladly say that the drama society has exceeded expectations in their adaption of Arthur Miller’s iconic tragedy.
Directed by Rachel Clinton and produced by Danielle Watts, the gripping family drama managed to evoke both laughter and horror from the audience, without one diminishing the effect of the other.
The performance’s biggest achievement is in its pacing. Django Marsh plays Eddie who begins as a reliable, caring and noble father, providing for his family. Making the transition from this to a bitter and enraged figure, who’s life is destroyed by his all consuming masculinity – is no easy task. However, Marsh nails the role in a way that makes his character arc believable and yet constantly shocking.
His niece, Catherine (played by Claudia Edwards) also undergoes significant changes throughout the play, making them both qualify as central protagonists.
The contrast at the beginning of Edwards’ role as naive and childlike to realising her uncle’s romantic feelings towards her is subtle and yet harrowing. Even through her defence of Eddie as simply an overprotective father figure, she delivers these lines a way which conveys her ever-growing uncertainty of him. When I heard gasps from the audience, after Eddie kisses his niece, I knew the production had succeeded in making its characters engaging and grounded.
Part of what makes these characters’ tragic downfall so effective was that it is contrasted with the comedic elements of play. After seeing Ivo Van Hove’s popular interpretation of ‘A View from the Bridge’, which was relentlessly depressing and claustrophobic, I was surprised at how often I found myself laughing along with Clinton’s version.
Whether it was Rodolpho (played by Jack Williamson) recounting overly thought out plans of owning a motorcycle or Marco (played by Franco Nazareno) with his matter-a-fact chilled out attitude, there was the comic relief throughout much of the play. Because of this, the characters became increasingly likeable in ways I hadn’t expected-which was a welcome surprise. Even supporting characters – like Mike and Louis (played by James McBride and Daniel McIntosh-Brammer) were magnetically charismatic, refusing to disappear into the background despite their brief appearances.
However, this isn’t to say that the performance became a comedy. When Rodolpho and Catherine clashed over starting a new life in Italy, the audience was silently engaged, gripped by the distressing back and forth between the couple.
One of the key elements for this balance between light and dark comes from Rowan Rennie’s Alfieri, who serves as the tragic anchor of the production. Rennie’s narration did an excellent job of maintaining constant tension and creating a foreboding atmosphere. His solemn expression reminded the audience that, even in the performance’s most light-hearted moments, there was untold misery lurking over the horizon.
What’s really commendable about this performance is that it managed to be funny exactly when it meant to be and yet emotionally challenging when it needed to be. The comedic elements made us laugh but also played on our sympathy and admiration for the characters – which laid the groundwork for an even more brutal and gut wrenching final act.
The lighting (operated by Vaila Walterson/ designed by Rachel Clinton and Abby Ferguson) adopts a more expressionistic approach as Eddie calls the immigration office, soaking him in dark, cold blue light-signalling his point of no return.
The reveal of his betrayal is when the performers really shined. Beatrice (played by Rachael Campbell), the wife of Eddie, delivers a shaken and crushing ‘What did you do?!’ as his world begins to spiral out of control. This line is what really signalled the change in atmosphere in the theatre to one of absolute dread. This feeling escalates until the play’s climax where Marco and Eddie fight it out with some well executed choreography. The makeup and special effects by Tamara Gamble added that extra visceral, gut wrenching element to the blood soaked finale.
The piece may be on a smaller scale than that of ‘The Great Gatsby’ or ‘Macbeth’, but I feel that makes it challenging in its own way. It was a focused family drama which relies upon on it’s heavily dialogue driven narrative. It’s a real accomplishment that it succeeds through realistic, emotional performances and maintains a gripping momentum in its pacing throughout. It was a fresh take on Miller’s classic tragedy and it managed to deliver on the difficult task of evoking a wide range of emotions from laughter and cheers, to disbelief and horror. In all of its endeavours, SUDS ‘A View From The Bridge’ goes above and beyond.