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Posts Tagged ‘Mr Peter’s Connections’

It’s taken thirteen years for Arthur Miller’s last play to cross the Atlantic, and on this showing you can’t help wondering why. As if the Finborough Theatre didn’t have enough feathers in its cap, here’s another one for this European premiere of a fascinating play.

Though Miller insisted it was a work of fiction, he is clearly revisiting a period in his life he first did with After the Fall forty years before. His five-year marriage to Marilyn Monroe was disintegrating during the filming of The Misfits in 1960, for which Miller wrote the screenplay, and it’s hard not to see this play as based that real-life experience.

We’re on a troubled film set where the leading lady’s behaviour is raising a lot of eyebrows. Famous director Derek Clemson is desperate to complete his film, cinematographer Terry Case anxious she looks right in his shots and Philip Oschner, the producer sent by the company’s new owners, just wants to finish it before his boss closes it down. Actress Kitty’s assistant Edna and coach Flora try and keep her together; they even fly in Flora’s husband Jerome, another coach. Our other character is screenwriter and Kitty’s husband Paul, their marriage breaking down before our eyes.

There are a couple of striking things about the play. The first is that it revolves around a character we never see, and the second is that the third act is made up almost entirely of a series of monologues by all of the characters talking to Kitty through a gap in the doorway of her hotel room. Most of the characters are probably archetypes or ‘composites’, as Miller said, but there are too many parallels between Kitty and Monroe and Phil and himself to make this anything other than an exorcism of a troubled period sixty-five years before, through guilt perhaps.

I much admired Phil Willmott’s staging and the work of design team Isabella Van Braeckel (set), Penn O’Gara (costumes), Rachel Sampley (lighting) and Nicola Chang (sound). Oliver Le Sueur creates a totally believable period perfect rookie producer in Philip. Jeremy Drakes, with the help of some specs perhaps, actually looks like Miller and I very much liked his restrained performance. Rachel Handshaw makes much of her role as assistant Edna, embarking on a relationship with producer Philip. Patrick Bailey looks and sounds every bit the down-to-earth cinematographer Terry. Stephen Billington, Nicky Goldie and Tony Wredden complete the picture with fine characterisations.

For a Miller fan like me, this is a huge treat, but it’s a decent play regardless, and a lot better than the other two of the final trio – Mr Peter’s Connections and Resurrection Blues – which I’d recommend to anyone.

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I vividly remember being at the UK premiere of this play 16 years ago. At the end, lead actor Henry Goodman pointed to a man a few rows behind me and the audience rose to its feet to give Arthur Miller a standing ovation.

Not everyone agreed (nothing new there, then) but I thought it was his best play in the 40 years since a row of four classics – All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible & A View From A Bridge – between 1947 and 1955. We’ve seen a lot of these four since, but not Broken Glass. The National hosted the UK premiere, but again it’s a fringe venue – the Tricycle – that gives us a second look.

Set in 1938 in New York, Sylvia Gellburg is mysteriously paralysed. The initial diagnosis is hysterical paralysis, a reaction to events in Nazi Germany, but as the play unfolds the relationship with, and behaviour of, her husband comes into the frame. She abandoned her business career, her sex life is unfulfilled, her husband possesses her.

Phillip Gellburg is one of the most complex characters Miller wrote – proud to be ‘the only Jew’ in his company with his son heading to be ‘the only Jew’ army General in a way that is distancing himself, even denying, his heritage. At the same time, he sees anti-Semitism when it might not even be there and is racked with feelings of inadequacy, persecution and inferiority complexes and paranoia.

Anthony Sher is mesmerizing, he IS Phillip Gellburg, and as the play unfolds his character becomes more exposed and develops emotional depth. Sylvia Gellberg is a tough role, changing significantly between the first and second acts. Playing a little older than her age, Lucy Cohu really pulls it off. The third key character, Dr Harry Hyman, who is fascinated by the case and attracted to his patient, sees Nigel Lindsay cast against type and more than a match for Sher and Cohu. These are fine performances indeed.

I’m not very familiar with director Iqbal Khan’s work, but I’ll make sure I am in the future, for this is a very intelligent production, deeply moving but without descending into sentimentality. Mike Britton has designed an impressionistic space which allows the drama to breath and the onstage cello playing of Laura Moody maintains the tension between scenes.

This play was followed by two disappointing late works – Mr Peter’s Connections and Resurrection Blues – and a third play, Finishing the Picture, which we haven’t seen here. Looking back now, it is clear that it was the last great work of a giant of theatre and seeing it again was as thrilling as seeing it for the first time.

Yet another triumph for the regularly triumphant and completely indispensable Tricycle!

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