FringeReview Scotland 2012
Arthur Miller’s first play, performed as part of a wee 1940’s focus at Cumbernauld is still touring. The production is brought to the stage by Liverpool’s Sell A Door Theatre Company and Scotland’s Mull Theatre. It’s a clever exploration of 1940’s America. Resonating with current events and twisted in its exposition this is one first play that was well worth dusting off for performance.
David Beeves lives in a town surrounded by bad luck. His brother is unable to make it in baseball; his wife’s father is run down; his father has his own hopes dashed as his other son’s baseball career is destroyed because of his training methods; his business partner Gustav was his rival but couldn’t keep up with him and ended up working for him; and so it goes on… The difference for David is that everything he touches turns to gold. Even when he believes that catastrophe must strike him at one time it doesn’t. Both his son and his mink survive.
This is Miller at a height. It certainly doesn’t have the assured depth or anger of The Crucible or the direct thump against the capitalist system as Death of a Salesman but it has some exceptional twists and turns. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to get a play where you do believe that becoming lucky would get you down. Through the use of narrative devices like the dominant father and the tension of a child’s birth that is convincingly believed to be a stillbirth – but isn’t – Miller takes us on a journey of dashed hopes and Chekhovian fortitude where everything changes whilst it all stays the same.
Sell A Door are a Liverpudlian Company with a short pedigree whilst Mull have been the Scottish artistic bumble bee for some time. The combination of both coming together in a co production marries two companies together in a very tight little number. Never less than convincing this is a quality product with some good performances. Stephen Bisland as David Beeves manages to convey the right amount of pathos whilst looking too young to have the businesses that he has. The menace of Falk is played well though it did have a touch of the melodramatic about it with Edward M Corrie all spookily lit. In some cases the melodramatic aspect of the writing did tend to make some of the performances more stilted than necessary with Shory and Pat Beeves feeling at times a little contrived and forced. That having been said it was far from being anything more than a slight fault. The melodramatic air brought to the stage by both Iain Ormsby-Knox as JB Feller and Richard Morse as both Dan Dibble and Augie Belfast were well observed and fitted perfectly the characters needed.
Now here is my bug bear. I know a lot of disabled actors. It is, after all, 2012. Should we not be attempting to have disabled actors in disabled roles? I mention this not as a criticism of the companies but as a cry at the system as a whole. Both companies and disabled actors should be working together to eradicate able bodied actors taking on roles of which disabled actors are more than capable. Concern expressed…
The set was precisely caught in terms of function and time. I do love to see actors changing their own set, not because I want to see stage managers out of a job, but because it means the performance has a truly integrated feel to it. The actors calling to each other and general good nature felt all deep south and Amish as it as turned from a garage into a house. Lighting, sound, costume, props – all correctly balanced as a backdrop to the piece.
This was a performance of high production values. Miller never fails to take his time and this can mean gaps where the production can sag. All kept the pace at the right tempo, allowing people to absorb fact and consider revelations whilst never losing sight of the continuing narrative. This never did and the appreciation of the audience was clearly felt and manifested in asking people to return for their second bow.
Going back to the previous writing of any established playwright can be risky. You can discover an absolute gem or find that their earlier work no where near matches their later expertise. Both companies have chosen well. Miller’s writing certainly improved but it set me off thinking how original the concept must have felt and how the conceit on which it is based was just so clever.
This was a great night out and entertaining from beginning to end. I think there were some patchy areas in terms of the ensemble working but these were minimal in comparisons to the strengths of the choices made for performance. As said earlier the audience was very appreciative and the venue highly conducive to the piece. Cumbernauld is a wee favourite of mine and I have been blessed in the past with some great shows there. It is interesting to see what ought to be a standard presented, just before their Epic new writing Festival. Eclectic mixes abound!
This was overall a good performance of a little known piece, and is well worthy of catching this company of skilled actors as they are touring. I have always been a sucker for the Liverpudlian way of doing things so will be looking up Sell A Door in the future; Mull continues to be one of our little big gems.