Miller originally wrote the play in 1955 as a one-act verse drama which was unsuccessful so he re-wrote it as a more traditional two-acter which premiered in London the next year in a production directed by Peter Brook with Anthony Quayle.
Belgian director Ivo van Hove has stripped the play down to it's bare essentials: an oblong playing area surrounded by a low ledge - and with on-stage seats on either side - feels like a bear-pit and with the single open door in the back wall there is the suggestion of a staging for Greek tragedy. Miller acknowledged he was inspired by the Greeks in his story of Eddie Carbone who brings about his own inevitable destruction with a relentlessness worthy of Euripedes.
The white, brightly-lit, space serves for all the locations in the play - even the longshoreman's showers - but mainly for the claustrophobic apartment where Carbone lives with his wife Beatrice and her orphaned niece Catherine who has a deep attachment to him as a father figure. Eddie has helped finance her secretarial school lessons but is upset when she accepts an office job before finishing her studies. Exactly what fuels Eddie's smothering protection of his niece? The situation is blown apart with the arrival of Marco and Rudolpho, two cousins of Beatrice who arrive illegally from Italy to stay in the Carbone apartment.
With no fear of exposure within the tight-knit Italian community, Eddie gets them work on the Brooklyn docks. While Marco is quiet and respectful, just wanting to send his wages back to his impoverished wife, Rudolpho is more gregarious and a centre of attention on the docks with his blonde hair and love of singing at work. Catherine is drawn to the fun-loving Rudolpho which triggers Eddie's jealousy and hatred of the younger man who he suspects is gay and using Catherine as his marital meal-ticket to stay in America.
When he realises that Catherine and Rudolpho have slept together, Eddie's jealousy consumes him and after first kissing Catherine he also violently kisses Rudolpho to show his niece what he thinks the younger man really is. Eddie visits Alfieri, a lawyer who is trusted by the community (and the show's narrator), and hints at betraying the two men to the immigration department which Alfieri warns will make him a pariah.
But Eddie does betrays them and, when they are arrested that night, he dismisses the accusations of Beatrice and of Marco who contemptuously spits in Eddie's face. Alfieri manages to get them bailed but begs Marco not to go after Eddie who, as he foretold, has been shunned by the community. But Marco wants his vengeance and Eddie wants his name restored, a stand-off that van Hove ends in literally a shower of blood. It is left to Alfieri to close the play with a halting summation of the tragedy of a man who he will mourn "but with a certain alarm"....
...and it was at this moment in the play that the woman in front of Owen switched on her mobile phone.
For it's two-hour running time, van Hove's pressure-cooker atmosphere built and built - aided by a constant ominous soundscape - to paraphrase Alfieri about Eddie, it was like a slow car-crash that you are unable to stop but can only view helplessly... all ruined by this stupid woman lighting up the first few rows with the light from her mobile phone. Owen prodded her shoulder and asked her to please turn it off which she eventually did and after the cathartic relief of the ovation, she was railed at the two women sitting beside Owen and us both.
And what was her excuse for totally ruining the ending of this production? In a self-righteous tone she whined "I had to check on the children". That, Constant Reader, was when I LOST IT. "Why couldn't you have waited FIVE MORE FUCKING MINUTES" I shouted at her smug puss. Not once did she apologise, not once did that sense of entitlement waver.
Frankly, I wanted to punch the fucker over the edge of the Dress Circle into the stalls. On leaving the row, another couple were waiting to tell us they too had suffered through someone behind them rattling their last few Malteasers in a box toward the end of the play and fully understood our anger. Which of course leads us on to why do theatres sell sweets that rustle and chocolates that rattle? Why indeed. And why didn't the Wyndhams give the usual announcement about switching off mobile phones, and why didn't the Circle usher race down to the woman and get her to turn off the phone?
I am sure if the hag had taken a photograph at that moment then the usher would have made her presence known so it leaves you to surmise that theatre managers are more eager to protect their rights over the rights of the audience. John Waters has spoken about cinema audiences should become more militant - set light to projection booths if they show films out of focus etc. so maybe it's time for us as theatre audiences to have a similarly terrorist approach to idiots.
What angers me is that now this excellent production is forever going to be tainted by this stupid bitch and I don't want that. I want to remember the excellent work of Mark Strong as Eddie, Nicola Walker as Beatrice who splendidly showed a woman slowly coming to realise the trouble in her marriage, Phoebe Fox's Catherine, Emun Elliott's Marco, Luke Norris' Rudolpho and Michael Gould's Alfieri.
Ivo van Hove's unrelenting direction leaves you breathless as he ratchets up the tension with every scene so any chance for salvation - Alfieri trying to persuade Eddie not to betray the men, Beatrice trying to tell Catherine to stop pestering Eddie - feel all the more desperate when they fail.
Jan Versweyveld's open but claustrophobic set with it's unexpected showers at the start and end of the play works wonderfully as does his lighting which subtly shifts the intensity of the bright light to mirror the shifts within the characters. A special mention must go to Tom Gibbons' ominous soundscape which plays throughout the action, sometimes swelling into religious choral sound, that keeps you permanently on edge.
I am hoping the memory of the idiot in the row in front of us might fade but I fear she will not... so here she is.
So be warned if you see this person anywhere near you in a theatre. Me? I just hope she drops dead.