When setting out on a new production of an old play, directors often say they intend “to go back to the text”. Fair enough: the words on the page seem a sensible place to start. But few directors go back there as single-mindedly, or successfully, as Ivo van Hove.
Van Hove is Belgian, but has spent the past 14 years running Holland’s leading theatre company, Toneelgroep Amsterdam, and is a familiar face off-Broadway, where he has earned two Obies for his work at the New York Theatre Workshop. His shattering, Olivier-winning version of Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge”, which started life at the Young Vic last year before moving into the West End, thrust him front-of-stage in Britain; now it’s about to transfer to Broadway, complete with its leads Phoebe Fox, Mark Strong and Nicola Walker (above, left to right).
It’s nothing new to speak of “A View” as a modern Greek tragedy: Miller himself was open about that intention both on and off stage. But Van Hove follows the trail Miller laid with an almost psychotic focus, stripping away all the naturalistic trappings – chairs and tables, pots and pans – of a longshoreman’s life in 1950s Brooklyn, and compressing the three-way tussle of souls between Eddie Carbone, his wife and her niece into an empty, Perspex-rimmed circle that consciously evokes the amphitheatres of ancient Greece.
He adds an almost continuous thrum of soundtrack, and at times takes what could be outrageous liberties with the rhythm of the dialogue: one unbearable moment stretches out the pauses between lines to breaking-point while a drum pulses in the background, a slow march towards the bloodiness to come. It’s emotionally devastating, as well as spotlighting the depth and pyschological insight of Miller’s language. Never mind Socrates, on this reading, “A View from the Bridge” could go toe-to-toe with Shakespeare. Get ready, New York – you’re in for something special. ~ ISABEL LLOYD
A View from the Bridge Lyceum, New York, Oct 21st to Feb 21st
THEATRE AT A GLANCE
Song from Far Away (Young Vic, London, Sept 2nd-19th). Ivo van Hove (story, above) directs the London première of a new play about one brother mourning another. The writer is Simon Stephens, a thrilling dramatist with an unfailing ability to dig poetry out of the everyday.
Hangmen (Royal Court, London, Sept 10th to Oct 10th). A coup for the Court: the Olivier- and Oscar-winning writer Martin McDonagh (“The Pillowman”, “In Bruges”) returns with his first stage play in five years, in which the second-best hangman in 1960s England finds an unusual way to cope with his enforced retirement.
Old Times (American Airlines, New York, Sept 17th to Nov 29th). The cast – Clive Owen, Eve Best and Kelly Reilly – could hardly be stronger, but the real interest is Douglas Hodge: an unparalleled Pinter actor, here holding the reins as director.
Young Chekhov (Festival, Chichester, in rep Sept 28th to Nov 14th). “Platonov” joins the more famous “Ivanov” and “The Seagull” in three new, cross-cast translations by David Hare. Anna Chancellor and Sam West lead the early-career whining about ducks going to Moscow.
Photograph 51 (Noel Coward, London, Sept 5th to Nov 21st). With Kenneth Branagh’s new company at the Garrick, and Matthew Warchus taking over at the Old Vic, London is bristling with alpha directors competing for attention. Michael Grandage’s pitch is Nicole Kidman (remember “pure theatrical Viagra”) as Rosalind Franklin, the under-sung – and not notably sexy – heroine of DNA.
Battlefield (Bouffes du Nord, Paris, Sept 15th to Oct 17th; then touring). Peter Brook reworks a shorter slice of his historic, nine-hour adaptation of the “Mahabharata” from the 1980s. A must for any serious student of theatre, it reaches the Young Vic in London next February. ~ IL