This Arthur Miller play was broadcast live from London’s National Theatre a few weeks back, starring Mark Strong as Eddie Carbone. The stage was a square surrounded by a bench, with steps at the end, minimalism that is increasingly popular at the National. In the past I thought this was being lazy, but here it really came into its own. It begins with Carbone and a colleague cleaning up after work, so we are immediately in the tough man’s world of the New York docks, post war. Eddie is expecting a pair of cousins to arrive, illegal immigrants, as are so many, seeking respite form the poverty of Italy.
Eddie has no children, but is devoted to his adopted daughter who is on the cusp of adult hood so no longer in need of his all encompassing protection. So this is about families, about letting children take flight. But it is also about Eddie, whose wife, turning her back to the audience, bemoans he no longer treats her like a wife. So for all his struggle to find work and show he is a man, there are questions. Then his daughter becomes invested in the unmarried cousin, but Eddie objects; the man sings too high, he can make dresses, he’s not right. He suspects he is using his daughter, but it is his complaint that the man is ‘not right’ that finds no proper name in the post war years, but we know what he is saying.
This is a tragedy on a Shakespearean scale. The characters are brilliantly drawn, and the lack of scenery, the blandness of the clothes all allow the words, the passion, the anger to find their full space.
A brilliant play, brilliantly performed, and great to see Strong getting away from playing the bad guy. Or is he?