Ivo Van Hove slams Arthur Miller’s play to the Young Vic stage, a simmering, foreboding take on ‘the American Dream’ which continues to hit home and spurt relevance sixty years after it was written and a few thousand miles away from the city in questions. Recently commenting on this production in the Guardian, Van Hove claimed, “my aim is the ultimate production”, whilst the performances are toe-curlingly brilliant, erupting a bubbling pit of jealousy, hardship, cabin fever and frustration, Van Hove’s excellent production is crushingly relegated to at least the ‘penultimate’ by sadly ill-fitting choices of design and soundtrack.
In light of the passing of the gay marriage bill in the last month, Eddie’s allusions to Rodolfo’s homosexuality and being “not right”, are particularly relevant, evoking more than a few self-conscious titters around the audience, Van Hove adapts these lines beautifully, acknowledging Eddie’s ignorance whilst also implying that his prejudicial views are far from unusual. Van Hove’s direction is flawless (bar a prolonged ‘awkward conversation’ scene that should have stayed in the rehearsal room), and Mark Strong broods onstage as an utterly terrifying Eddie. One half-expected him to leap-frog the stage and unleash a murderous brawl in the front row. A caged animal imprisoned by his own obsession, simmering violence and inner-turmoil; there’s no need to wait until the first punch is thrown an hour or so in, the violence seeps out of Eddie the second the lights come up.
As mentioned initially, objections are from a technical perspective. Whilst the sparse, clean-cut lines are indicative of a community unaccustomed to luxury, scraping by what they can. Miller’s play centres on a cramped, deprived microcosm in flux, where a sheltered ward, to the bubbling, fermenting near-incestuous dismay of her guardian is exposed to the bright lights of the city and the lurid vividness of first love. As said above, the acting, spot on. Whilst simplicity can indeed ensure that style doesn’t deviate from grittier substance, Jan Versweyveld’s clean black and white lines divorce the story from its heady, atmospheric context, depriving the audience of a gritty insight into the collision of grime, sweat and hardship with hope, big-city and bright lights.
Similarly, whilst a drumming motif works throughout to an extent, and a choral soundtrack adds a certain ambience evoking the clash of Italian Catholicism with modern America, it’s all just a bit much. The constant drumming feels too much like a rehearsal technique that’s slipped into the end product whilst the amped up music in the famous ‘chair’ scene, elicited a wave of hearty laughter rather than the loom of foreboding violence which Van Hove presumably intended.
Don’t get me wrong, this was pretty good. However, can the drums and pipe down the music a little and Van Hove could have had the “ultimate production” for which he strived. 3/5