Notable Productions: A View From The Bridge - Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn"A View From The Bridge is a wonderful small-scale tragedy and, written in the 1950s, it betrays a lot of its 1950s origins with that period’s low key Method approach which asks for the eye-level contact you can get in the Cottesloe."
(Plays International, February 1987)
"Directing tragedy has a lot in common with directing farce. When we did Tons Of Money we had to meet the audience on the floor, gently leading them up the wall and then leave them standing on the ceiling. If you're doing your job well, they shouldn't notice until it's time to get down again. It's the same with A View From The Bridge: the emotional level is big - and the British are terribly embarrassed by emotions - so you have to make a journey from Normality to Big without leaving them behind.
"It's down to someone like Gambon really. He can't avoid getting the sympathy of the audience. He's big and powerful - he actually looks like a man who unloads ships - and he's dangerous. But he can turn on a sixpence and suddenly look like some small child. I defy anyone, male or female, not to want to go and hug him. Eddie is a difficult, bigoted man, but the character is magnificent so long as you can get the sense that he's only doing what he thinks is right. I've watched run-through after run-through, and it never fails to move me.
"I've had to guide the actors quite sternly through it. Thai's partly because it's so tightly written, so precise. Points have to be made very carefully. With a big play, with a Lear, you get plenty of shots at the same point; you're bound to hit the audience sooner or later. This play is so dense you could miss them altogether if you don't get every little thing to work. Each scene condenses a whole course of action, so you have to get the pitch and the tempo exactly right. We found at first that people were rushing into heavy emotions at the beginning of each scene. A lot of the rehearsals have been to do with coming in lightly.
“We've found a lot of humour right through the play. And it's absolutely essential: if the tone stays the same the play doesn't go anywhere. The play has its own specific gravity, which can't be detracted from. But you have to approach it with a certain lightness. It's interesting, because it's the reverse of doing a comedy, where you don't laugh much at all in rehearsals: you're busy trying to make the humour truthful. With A View From The Bridge we've been having a very good time. It reminds me of seeing Michael Hordern once when he was rehearsing Lear with Jonathan Miller. I asked him how it was going, and he said, “I've no idea, but I'm having a hell of a lot of laughs!”
(Times Educational Supplement, 13 February 1987)
“When I wrote A Small Family Business early last year, I had no idea who was going to be in my group at the National Theatre. Apart from Mike Gambon; he was built into it from the start, and it was largely because of him that I wanted to do A View From The Bridge: he's such a big, heroic kind of actor. Not obviously heroic in the traditional sense, of course, but a hero of modern life, an everyday hero such as Arthur Miller had in mind, somebody who has this heroic dimension in everything he does, however humdrum.”
(Plays And Players, April 1987)
"I started by inviting Michael Gambon out to lunch to see if he would be interested and, if so, what plays he would fancy doing. We are both men of few words and large appetites. Before the soup had hit the table we had fixed the season and set about the serious business of downing the minestrone. We settled on Miller's A View From The Bridge (which worried Michael a little because he seemed to recall that the hero had an awful lot of lines) and the 1920s Aldwych farce, Tons Of Money. This latter was much more to Michael's taste as he was to play the supporting role of the butler, Sprules, with very few lines indeed; besides which, he had played the part before in a studio production and thought he could remember it. My own new play, after our long association together (since 1974 and The Norman Conquests), he agreed to take on trust. The National Theatre contracts department was later quite incredulous. It must have been one of the few instances of a leading actor signing a contract for a play he hadn't read and a part without a name. Gambon is no ordinary star."
(Sunday Telegraph, 21 February 1988)
"A View From The Bridge was almost a holiday by comparison [to A Small Family Business). Being a Cottesloe production (and thus a lower budget) we were obliged to rehearse in church halls in freezing February. We assembled for rehearsal as late as we dared and went home as quickly as we could. Suzan Sylvester, who played the daughter Catherine, fell and damaged her knee and rehearsed with a limp for a bit. We contemplated doing Williams's The Glass Menagerie with its crippled heroine instead, but she got better."
(Sunday Telegraph, 21 February 1988)
"The problem with A View From The Bridge is that a lot of characters don't appear until the last ten pages. As a dramatist, this worried me so I thought we should both establish the neighbours and immigrant-community early on and also start the play quite lightly. The play reaches such a powerful conclusion you have to grease the slope quite painlessly for the audience."
(The Guardian, 8 August 1988)
"In A View From The Bridge, without stretching the text, we went out of our way not to avoid what was actually comic in it. Laughter in the theatre for me indicates a care for the characters, love for the characters, that they’re not being watched in respectful silence."
(Sunday Times, 29 September 1991)
"A View From The Bridge has a tragic inexorability about it so that death is inevitable. I appreciate it might not appear so to Beatrice but she knows she's in the midst of a horror she is powerless to affect. When we did A View From The Bridge at the National Theatre, we played it very fast, extracting every once of humour that we could get out of the early part of the play. Avoiding any sense of impending doom initially made the end even more tragic."
(Personal correspondence, 1993)
"Directing a play of the calibre of A View From The Bridge is a joy. I think, modestly, it was a good production, but a lot of it was that it's an excellent play. It was cast beautifully, and the cast all gelled in the right way. There were known talents: I knew that unless something dreadful happened, Gambon was going to be at least good - actually, he turned out to be extraordinary. And there were people like Liz Bell who, as it were, had a nice boost to her career, and new talents like Suzan Sylvester who really came on well and came back to do 'Tis Pity She's A Whore with me. But having said that, what I think made it work better than, perhaps, it has done sometimes, was that we approached it in a slightly Tons of Money-ish way. We approached it saying, 'How can we legitimately get the laughter out of this show - early on, particularly?' (You can't start getting much laughter after the guy's tried to assault his own niece, but up to that point, how do you get the joy of that family, so that it's something you care about?) I've seen it done a bit solemnly and a bit po-facedly, telling the audience, 'You're in for a bad evening!' What our production did - and it was somewhat due to Mike Gambon's own ability to play tragedy and comedy quite easily - was to manage to balance it. It was moving because you liked the people, and you liked the people because you laughed with them.
(Conversation With Ayckbourn, second edition)
Michael Gambon's description of Alan's reaction to the first night of the play
"We came off and found Alan in the scene dock weeping tears of relief and joy. It was entirely thanks to him we got it up into the air."
(Sunday Times, 4 February 1990)
Michael Gambon on working with Alan Ayckbourn
"I fell in love with Alan Ayckbourn, the day I met him and, starting with The Norman Conquests, went on to do eight plays with him. He tells you just what you want to know and has a brilliant way of solving problems. I suppose our most famous partnership was when he directed me as Eddie in Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge at the National. Eddie is a violent man, and one day in rehearsal Alan told me to pick up a table and hurl it with full force at my wife and niece. He said, 'You can't hurt them because they're in a corner.' Anyway, everyone who saw it said the effect was sensational and some time later I asked Alan why he thought of it. 'Well,' he said, 'I had to find a way of clearing the table in time for the next scene.'"
(The Guardian, 20 May 2014)
Elizabeth Bell's view of the rehearsal process
"He [Alan Ayckbourn] did work very, very deliberately against the tragedy, and held it off and held it off until it was inevitable, until it couldn't not happen. Until then we had to play a family who were very happy together."
(Alan Ayckbourn: Grinning At The Edge, by Paul Allen)
Sheridan Morley on Arthur Miller's view of the production
"It's author, Arthur Miller, once told me this was the best one [production] he had ever seen."
(Sunday Telegraph, 20 November 1988)
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn