Posts Tagged ‘de Roovers’

Four years ago, also as part of the Greenwich & Docklands International Festival, Flemish theatre company de Roovers staged Arthur Miller’s A View From A Bridge in the open air on Greenwich Peninsula with the Docklands skyline as a backdrop, substituting for New York. It was brilliant. Now here they are on Thamesmead Waterfront with Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills.

I last saw this play at the NT 25 years ago. Then the cast of children played by adults included Steve Coogan & Robert Glenister and it was directed by Patrick Marber, midway between his hit NT plays Dealer’s Choice and Closer. It was the stage adaptation of a 1979 BBC Play for Today which itself starred Helen Mirren and Colin Welland. Quite a pedigree.

We had to take a special coach (included) from Abbey Wood station as it’s a secret, secure site, 1.5 miles of Thames waterfront, its history alone making the visit worthwhile. A wartime arsenal, abandoned hazardous land, forbidden playground, temporary adventure park and soon to be new development. A perfect location for a story about children playing and growing up. Two hills behind, one with a small derelict building on it, undergrowth all around and a playing area in front. Flights leaving Heathrow standing in for war planes.

The children play as children do, sometimes kind, sometimes cruel. Boys don’t really like girls, and vice versa, but they’re open to a bit of experimentation. They imagine, invent, lie and do deals. One gets bullied a lot. It ends tragically, playing with fire, but no-one accepts any blame, a bit like today’s adults, though they expect retribution. I wasn’t sure about some of the casting and clothing choices – no clean shaven faces and short trousers for the boys here – and the difficult Gloucester dialect when channelled through English spoken with a Flemish accent was sometimes a bit surreal, but they captured the essence of childhood and the Englishness of it all and it was a captivating ninety minutes.

GDIF are to be congratulated on the logistical feat of pulling off a show like this, and the many others in the festival. Transport, security, stewards, lighting, sound, seating…it’s quite something. Well done!

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The Greenwich & Docklands International Festival is best known for outdoor spectaculars, so its good to see them include a classic play. Flemish company de Roovers first staged it with Antwerp docks passing for the Brooklyn longshore. Now Greenwich Peninsula and the Thames riverbank pose as Red Hook with the skyscrapers of Docklands standing in for lower Manhattan. It’s an inspired idea.

Arthur Miller’s play is like a Greek tragedy, but an Italian American one, involving longshoreman Eddie Carbone, his wife Beatrice, his niece Catherine and two other relatives, Rodolpho and Marco, illegal immigrants from Sicily seeking better lives than they can have in post-war Italy. Eddie is possessive of Catherine; they are close, too close, and as she develops a relationship with Rodolpho, Eddie becomes racked with jealousy, with tragic consequences. I particularly liked the way they represented the way Eddie’s life is turned upside-down by the developing relationship.

At the end of a sweltering week. it was cold and windy and this somehow added dramatic effect, with dust blowing across the playing area and brooding cloud cover above the skyscrapers. The sparseness, with just a platform and chair representing the Carbone living room and the phone box specified in Miller’s stage directions, added to the atmosphere, as does the soundtrack by a live trio. It was reasonably faithful to Miller, but I wish they hadn’t changed the ending, as this added a touch of implausibility to go with its heightened dramatic effect.

With the actors all of a similar age, you do have to suspend disbelief and imagine the youth of Catherine and Rodolpho, and why on earth the lawyer Alfieri broke into a manic dance during one of his later pieces of narration is beyond me, but these were the only things that jarred in an atmospheric telling of a classic tale. 

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