Alan Ayckbourn on Arthur Miller

This article which explores Alan Ayckbourn's experiences with Arthur Miller's work and the playwright himself - alongside Miller's reaction to Ayckbourn's production of A View From The Bridge at the National Theatre in 1987 - was written for the book Remembering Arthur Miller.

I first became aware of Arthur Miller's work when I was still at school. A friend and I joined the members-only theatre club at the Comedy Theatre, formed in order to stage banned plays which had, for some reason or other, fallen foul of The Lord Chamberlain. One was Peter Brook's production of
A View From the Bridge, the memory of which was to remain with me for years.
Nearly 40 years later, I was asked by Peter Hall, then the current Director of the National Theatre to form a company and choose three plays to run respectively in the National's three auditoria, the Olivier, the Lyttelton and the Cottesloe. It was in the Cottesloe that I chose to direct
A View From the Bridge. The years of waiting had paid off though my decision was slightly influenced, I confess, when Michael Gambon agreed to be part of that three repertoire company and to play Eddie Carbone.
Rehearsals, as was often the case when Mike and I worked together, were sporadic and enjoyable. Sporadic because the church hall which the NT had allocated us for rehearsal was so cold that by lunchtime we inevitably chose to knock off early; enjoyable, because we worked, as usual, on the principle that the more tragic the play the more legitimate humour we needed to extract from the piece. Characters you can't laugh with you seldom love. Anyway, the principle seemed to work and by the time Miller arrived to see an early preview, the production was already a big success.
I think he was genuinely surprised when he first saw it. For one thing the play was - due to the speed we played it, we cut nothing - a good hour shorter than a previous production Miller had seen in New York. It also inevitably, especially at the start, contained many more laughs. Actually, I was unsure what he made of it at all.
Maybe he even disapproved. I sort of sensed he did - when authors tell directors their production is like no other they have seen before, you can't help wondering what they really mean. For instance, I know what I really mean by that because it's a phrase I've used as an author several times in my lifetime to various directors. It means, simply, what the fuck have you done to my play?
Certainly at the dinner the three of us had after that first preview, Mike and I on either side of the great man, Miller talked entertainingly and informatively throughout the meal, though the production was never referred to.
I think it took him a second visit on the press night, to come round completely to our version; not only to come round but to thoroughly endorse it. Maybe the ten minute standing ovation helped.
After that second press night viewing, the three of us were once again in a restaurant, this time in separate parties, Mike and I at one table, Miller at another. Halfway through the meal the author marched over to us and, seizing Mike's hand and raising it high above his head like a boxing referee, shouted to the room in general," The best Eddie, EVER!" That was nice.

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