Arthur Miller 2019: a summary

The Crucible
Photo credit: Helen Murray

Before this, I’ve taken on Shakespeare, puppetry and Emma Rice; thanks to an early pattern in theatre scheduling, I decided this year had to focus on Arthur Miller.

I started off really enthusiastically – it definitely helped that I was rather spoilt for choice in terms of productions of Arthur Miller’s plays in the first half of the year. Things did tail off a little in the second half of the year, as the productions dried up and other things got in the way.

One of my earliest shows of the year was the Essential Classics production of An Enemy of the People at the Union Theatre. This was Miller’s take on an Ibsen play that sees a doctor’s expertise ignored in favour of turning a profit; the mayor uses her power to suppress the newspaper and turn the locals against her brother.

Next up was one of my favourites, thanks in part to stage seating and innovative direction from Rachel Chavkin. The American Clock was the first of two Miller productions at the Old Vic in that season, this one demonstrating the cyclical nature of history – almost as if we’re doomed to repeat the same themes over and over again. “…there is no limit to human stupidity.”

The American Clock
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

The West End transfer of Theatre Royal Bath’s production of The Price came next, during its limited engagement at the Wyndham’s. I inadvertently chose a good watching order, as I felt that this one was something of a companion piece to The American Clock – though The Price was written 12 years before, in 1968, it actually focuses on the long-term knock-on effects for a family hit by the Great Depression.

One of my favourite ever plays came after this – my first ever trip to The Yard was for their clever take on The Crucible. The idea of with hunts is forever relevant, and the way they moved from period costume to modern day clothing helped press this home. It was also interesting to look at John Proctor anew, by casting a female actor in the role.

Then it was back to the Old Vic, for their starry production of All My Sons. As well as standing out with an absolutely stunning set and an impressive cast list, the play itself continued to show Arthur Miller’s relevance in 2019: the far-reaching consequences of war, corruption and dishonesty feature heavily.

After that, I was across the road at the Young Vic for a groundbreaking new production of Death of a Salesman. Marking the play’s 70th anniversary, this version starred Wendell Pierce as the titular salesman, and featured Sharon D. Clarke, Arinzé Kene & Martins Imhangbe as the rest of the Loman family. It’s little surprise that it ended up transferring to the West End, but I’ve unfortunately not been able to squeeze in a repeat visit.

Death of a Salesman
Photo credit: Brinkhoff-Mogenburg

Last, but not least, I headed up to Northampton for a Royal & Derngate and York Theatre Royal co-production of A View From The Bridge. The casting of this version was inspired by an excerpt from Arthur Miller’s autobiography that director Juliet Forster read; the actors were from a variety of backgrounds, which helped to tie in with the subject of immigration that’s at the core of the play.

I also managed to find Arthur Miller in a couple of other shows this year: Drunken Brainstorm’s How to Mend the World (With a Student Play) at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and Out of the Forest Theatre’s Call Me Fury at The Hope Theatre. Both were linked to The Crucible, taking very different angles on the famous play – one looked at how a student theatre company might try to put their own spin on it, whilst the other delved into the facts behind the play and the history of ‘witches’ across the world.

Unfortunately I did also manage to miss at least a couple of major productions. Bolton’s Octagon Theatre had a limited run of The Last Yankee early in the year, and Nottingham Playhouse had a short run of An Enemy of the People – the latter I was really keen to see, as they’d incorporated a different (and more pertinent) gender switch, with Alex Kingston starring as the doctor. Obviously the former would also have been good, as a completely different Arthur Miller! I also didn’t quite make it to Edinburgh in time to see a ballet version of The Crucible, which was disappointing.

All in all, I’d say this focus has been a success. It’s clear now that we are living through times which would feel very familiar to Arthur Miller, which is why his works seem to strike such a chord.

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