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Posts Tagged ‘Ron Hutchinson’

A thrilling production of a world première of a stage adaptation of a 1951 unproduced Arthur Miller screenplay at the lovely Royal Theatre in Northampton. Wow!

Miller took the screenplay to Hollywood with his girlfriend Marilyn Monroe and friend / collaborator director Elia Kazan, who shortly after named him to McCarthy and lost his friendship for good (he also went on to make his own film about longshoremen – On the Waterfront). Miller was faced with demands for radical changes which would make the dockers less sympathetic and whitewash the employers and the union hierarchy, something he would not do. Even the FBI became involved because they thought it might lead to social unrest, and in one of those deeply ironic ‘life imitates art’ moments, the unions said that if it was made they would stop every projectionist in America from showing it!

We’re back in A View from the Bridge territory, with the longshoremen of Red Hook, New York (Miller’s birthplace) but a very different story, inspired by real life events. The dockers are mostly US born rather than illegal immigrants, but they’re still exploited. The corrupt union president is in cahoots with their employers and the Mafia, taking enough of a cut for unheard of 50’s luxuries like holidays in Florida. After the accidental death of colleague Barney under pressure to work faster, Marty Ferrera leads a revolt, only to be faced with an assassination attempt, rigged ballots and even the fears of reprisals felt by his colleagues and supporters. It’s a series of short, fast-moving scenes which makes it feel like a screenplay and it soon grabs you and has you on the edge of your seat. Playwright Ron Hutchison, now virtually lost to film & TV in the US, has created a gripping drama.

James Dacre’s production is stunning, with a brilliant set by Patrick Connellan, terrific video by Nina Dunn, atmospheric lighting from Charles Balfour and a superb soundtrack by Isobel Waller-Bridge that combine to create an evocative picture of both the location and period. Jamie Sives conveys the determination, commitment and passion of Marty wonderfully. Joseph Alessi is excellent as defiant union president Louis, determined not to lose his grip on power and to stay on his gravy train. Susie Trayling plays Marty’s wife, supportive but fearful, with great sensitivity and feeling. The other eight members of this great ensemble are supplemented by fifteen from the community who make the big scenes like dockside gatherings and union meetings tense and gripping.

This was such a treat for a Miller fan like me and it was great to see so many of the matinee audience give it a standing ovation (unheard of in my experience of regional theatre). If only Miller had lived to see his work come alive like this over sixty years on, in his centenary year, resonating still in a world of zero hour contracts and corporate corruption.

One more week, then Liverpool. Not to be missed.

 

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When I was trying to buy a beer at a rock concert in Albuquerque, they asked to see my wristband. I didn’t have one so I was shown where to get one and told I would need ID to do so, but the only reason they gave me for needing a wristband was ‘to buy a beer’ (I was twice the minimum age). When I asked the wristband people why I needed it they said ‘to get a beer’. I still don’t know why I needed to produce ID to get a wristband to get a beer, but this recollection popped into my head half-way through the first half of this play and helped me identify with the absurdity of Wilhelm Voigt’s situation . Fresh out of prison, he needs a passport to get a resident permit to get a home or a job.

Given the history and pedigree of the play, based on a true story, you can see why the NT wanted to stage it, Adrian Noble to direct it, Ron Hutchison to adapt it and Anthony Sher to play the lead role. A satire set in an early thirties Germany in transition from the Kaiser to Hitler? Yes please! They don’t quite pull it off, but I don’t think you’d be able to predict that from the page; there is however enough to enjoy to make it a worthwhile evening.

It’s the longer first half that’s the problem. It starts very well, but then takes too long to get to Voigt’s big con – impersonating an army Captain and getting all the way from the street via the Town Hall to the Interior Ministry, embarrassing the establishment of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany along the way. We don’t actually get there until the second half where it turns into absurdist farce and finds its form. The first half’s satire on bureaucracy and authority is just too long. They’ve clearly already shortened it; another 15 minutes would do it.

Anthony Ward’s Vorticist city backdrop is great, they use the Olivier’s drum revolve to great effect and the use of music adds much. Anthony Sher is excellent as Voigt, contemptuous of the absurdity around him and visibly relishing the process of showing it up. The role does dominate, but there’s excellent support from a large cast of 26, particularly Anthony O’Donnell as The Mayor of Kopenick & a toilet cleaner (!), Adrian Schiller as a revolutionary tailor, Nick Samson as a banker and Minister of the Interior and David Killick as a pair of shopkeepers.

Playwright Carl Zuckmayer is better known as the writer of The Blue Angel, though this play did get three film adaptations. Voigt was apparently a bit of a folk hero and after a couple of years back in prison was touring Europe to capitalise on this fame. It’s fascinating stuff, even if it doesn’t quite make great theatre in this adaptation / production.

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