A View from the Bridge – Iain Sinclair and the justification for Arthur Miller. (Theatre Review)

A View from the Bridge

Red Line Productions

The Old Fitz Theatre – 18 October -25 November

You can grab your tickets here. 

Images: Supplied by Red Line Productions

A real question exists for the serious theatre-goer as to what is happening when we see repeated texts. As a great writer friend of mine suggested these are “cover versions” of theatre, each play sanctifying a text representing another period, another city, another problem, thereby reducing the creative to a question of interpretation, fidelity and (worst of all) polish. This question (or problem) lends itself to some theater experiences more than others: Red Line Productions gave us a thrilling ‘version’ of 4:48 Psychosis this year, that occurred as barely touched by its history. It is fitting then, that this truly beautiful ‘version’ of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge tumbles into our laps from this same theatre company, who have had a marvelous 2017 on a stage shared by “covers” and “originals.” Here we have a great opportunity to ask ourselves (because Iain Sinclair is surely one of the highest access points we have to an excellent production of this sort) why are we still putting on productions by Arthur Miller, an American dealing with old American problems, that force the dubious use of nostalgia to forge connections to our Australian contemporary life that are at best unhelpful and worst downright backward?

I mean no disrespect here, for this wonderful play is an excellent example of a theatre company, and series of creatives making a play far superior to its text – and I mean that. My question to you, my fellow theatre attendee, is if it takes Arthur Miller to get you to the theatre in 2017, do you need to seriously examine your reason for engaging in artistic pleasures at all. Arthur Miller is theatre-light: easy, manipulative in that Nietzschean way, emotively cathedral, containing all the complexity and shallowness of a pretty photograph. Photography has its place, but are we really best to look at the same image over and over and distort the present on behalf sentimentality and preference? Did you pay (the incredibly cheap price) of attending Red Line’s large array of local written plays? If not, why not?

And yet, I will include my own refutation here, by adding that this is such a fine production, that there is great pleasure to be had in the rare experience of production surpassing text, and Iain Sinclair has a peculiar ability to do this. This is a production you must include on your theatre rounds. So, perhaps my message is more honestly, go; despite the unfortunate inclusion of Arthur Miller. I claim no authority here of course, as Objectivity and Subjectivity are forces that can overwhelm text but have no affinity with it. I offer only the opinion of one who sees a lot of Australian theatre, a bit of international theatre, and reads hard, thinks hard and writes hard about as many of these experiences as I can. Watching theatre is not a parasitical act (like watching television is) it is a form of work that is more topological (in the logical sense) in that I am not in the text I am merely irrecoverable from it. So, I guess my ridiculous point is, go and see this play, and love it, but not for Arthur Miller. Make sense? Of course not.

Part of the joy in this production is director Iain Sinclair’s breadth and depth of experience with these styles of productions, and again, therein lies another refutation of my first paragraph’s point. His skill in bringing new life to the American Contemporary Classic making the dissolution of the American dream a passionate focus of his career, includes the strange American (in)ability to see themselves, and yet refuse to change. An Australian directing a loved American text in front of Australian’s who carry an innate judgement of American culture is more than a pop cultural twisty trick. To remain attentive to the plurality of a text we must renounce structuring this text in large masses as was done in our secondary school education – of which Arthur Miller may easily have been a part. Inside our relationship to these canonical texts (and Iain Sinclair is deliberately, joyfully and hopelessly tied to these American canons) lies our unique Australian perspective, layering the text ceaselessly but without being delegated to a great final ensemble, to an ultimate structure. There is no doubt Arthur Miller didn’t think of Australia when he wrote A View from the Bridge, but we can’t see Iain Sinclair’s production separate from the fact of location. Herein lies the key to the texts validity: not that Arthur Miller can represent all texts, but that literature is never anything other than the single text and it is us (and in this case the creatives) that provide, not a model for meaning, but entrance into a network with a thousand entrances. For Arthur Miller then, we are not the bearers of Critical Law, but of perspective whose vanishing point is ceaselessly pushed back and each viewing is the theory of this vanishing which indefinitely returns, insubmissive. In effect it is a perpetual decomposition of the original work, a slow motion, neither wholly text nor wholly analysis, but a systemic use of digressions which lead to a way of observing the reversibility of the structures from which the text is woven. Put simply, we will watch Arthur Miller and slowly destroy (devour) him, until we can watch him no more; not as parasites, but as diligent topological workers.

This current example of A View from the Bridge is, as is to be expected, beautifully put together by Iain Sinclair and his list of creatives. Poignantly and delicately woven, emphasis is upon structure and performance with standout efforts by Janine Watson, David Lynch, Ivan Donato and sound designer Clemence Williams, make the production a remarkably engaging experience. Martelle Hunt wraps the cast in a teal/steely post-industrial grey, while Jonathan Hindmarsh wraps the production in the judicial ascendant eye of an Australian audience in the round. Red Line Productions have had a wonderful 2017, and all this bodes well for an exciting 2018. This production exemplifies their ability to have us engage with deeper questions around Sydney and our relationship to theatre abroad and who we are as Australian creatives in the world. I for one am always grateful and excited for each production they offer.