by Arthur Miller
The Old Red Lion Theatre
418 St John Street, London EC1V 4NJ to 9 January 2016.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat & Sun 2.30pm.
Runs 1 hr 30 mins No interval.
TICKETS; 020 7837 7816.
Review: William Russell 12 December.
A Miller’s tale rediscovered worth finding
This fascinating play was discovered in the archives of the University of Michigan by the director Sean Turner. Written by Miller when he was a student, it was a bid to raise money by entering the university’s Avery Hopwood playwriting competition – which he won. It was never performed and was thought to have been lost.
First plays are sometimes better forgotten, but this one, based on the problems facing his family in the Great Depression, is a wonderful foretaste of the themes, particularly about family relationships, which were to dominate much of his later work.
It is about a garment manufacturer – his father ran such a firm in New York – facing ruin during the depression because a strike is preventing him from supplying his customers. He has two sons, one working in the business, the other at college, a Communist who refuses to help break the strike when home on holiday by delivering the goods. Both brothers, in fact, share the same sympathies but the one in the firm is ready to run the gauntlet of the strikers.
The play works remarkably well although the clashes between father and sons really do not get fully developed dramatically. Turner has secured very good, if slightly too emphatic, performances from David Bromley as the Abe, the father, and George Turvey as Ben, the son trying to save the day. He needs to remind them that in a small venue like this less is more.
As Arnold, the favourite student son, a self portrait, Adam Harley fares better and Nesba Cranshaw is very affecting as the fragile, neurotic mother who wants all her sons to better themselves. The seeds of All My Sons and Death of a Salesman are there in abundance and it is something of a coup for the Old Red Lion to stage this first performance.
Miller’s father’s garment manufacturing firm got into trouble in 1929 and the family had to move from Manhattan to shared rooms in Brooklyn. What should have been a gilded adolescence became one of lack of money and struggle. There is a good set – the action moves from the family living room to the factory – and hopefully the run here will not be the end of the line for the play. It is a seminal work which does not deserve to be lost. Turner’s search through the archives has paid off.
Abe: David Bromley.
Esther: Nesba Grenshaw.
Ben: George Turvey.
Maxine: Helen Coles.
Grandpa Barnett/Man: Kenneth Jay.
Arnold: Adam Harley.
Frank: Anton Cross.
Mr Dawson/Doc/Roth: Stephen Omer.
Director: Sean Turner.
Designer: Max Dorey.
Lighting: Jack Weir.
Sound: Richard Melkonian.