Review by Lucas Miller.
Written by Arthur Miller | Directed by John Dove | Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, 16 January – 14 February.
David Beeves – Philip Cumbus
Shory – Matthew Pidgeon
JB Feller – Andrew Vincent
Andrew Falk and Augie Belfast – Peter Harding
Patterson Beeves – Ron Donachie
Amos Beeves – Perri Snowdon
Hester Falk – Kim Gerard
Dan Dibble – Richard Addison
Gustav Eberson – Greg Powrie
Aunt Belle – Isabella Jarrett
Arthur Miller’s earliest play to run on the Broadway stage, The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944), began in the form of a novel – his student, friend and biographer Christopher Bigsby tells us in his pre-show talk on January 20. Over the course of four years, Miller wrote several drafts, unsure how best to present his themes; through which medium? through which plot? should there be an enlightened redemption or a tragic fall for his hero? From 1941 he began working the “fable” into a play. In late 1944 it arrived at the Forrest Theater, where it ran for three days and four performances before being called off the stage, a failure, though recognized by many critics as a promising indication of good work to come.
The play has since been largely neglected, until 2001 when it resurfaced at the Williamstown Theatre Festival before running an immensely popular production directed by Scott Ellis (director of last season’s The Understudy) at the American Airlines Theater in New York City. A film adaptation will be released this year, directed again by Mr Ellis. It is certainly a deserving revival, for, as Lucy Vaughan, head of Lyceum education, comments: “This one’s a treat for all fans of Arthur Miller. It’s rarely performed, yet it has all the passion and drama of his better known plays.”
The Man Who Had All the Luck is set in a small Midwestern town, somewhere not far from Detroit, as the characters’ support of the Tigers is (at first, at least) unquestionable. Here, in a shabby barn converted into the workplace of our auto-mechanic hero, David Beeves (played well by Philip Cumbus), the first act is played. David is in love with a local girl called Hester Falk (Kim Gerard), but cannot marry her due to her father’s objections. While he is relatively successful in that he has his own business, he does not have all the tools or capital he requires. Both problems are fixed when Lady Luck comes to David’s aid as it always has done and will continue to do in acts two and three. But David must be spectator to the misfortunes of his comrades. Paradoxically, his empathy for their tragedies make him not so lucky as he chooses to think he is. As Christopher Bigsby aptly puts it, David feels a “terror of failure and guilt at success.” His constant success not only builds a guilt within him, but a fear that he is going to one day lose it all, with one fowl swoop of bad luck; he believes that tragedy is inevitable.
Through this plot, the play deals with the theme of human incapacity to control life’s fortunes and misfortunes; the fear that all is left to a twisted supernatural power that determines our fate, that our personal skills and desires are meaningless in the end. Shory, who has had more than his fair share of bad luck, claims that we are all jelly fish caught in the tide.
The first act of John Dove’s production is weak, though he must be commended on the set and the fine Marmon car wheeled onto the stage. Perhaps some of this act’s failings can be attributed to those of the young writer, but not all, as the conversations do come across as well-written. The intelligence that David is our hero is a bit delayed by the many characters on stage with him from the beginning, but this is clarified soon enough. Kim Gerard and Andrew Vincent (playing JB Feller) both overacted. The former was loud, spasmodic and very difficult to like. The latter’s gestures were awkward and unnatural, and his speeches were directed too much at the audience, making him seem out of character sometimes. He improves very much in the later when he takes to the bottle. Andrew Falk (Peter Harding, who reappears as baseball manager Augie Belfast in the second act) was very good as Hester’s disagreeable father. Without yelling, his performance managed to instill an eerie effect in characters and spectators both. Acts two and three were better overall. The scene here is the new, vibrant, middle class living room belonging to our fortunate protagonist. In it we witness David’s tragic fall and his ultimate redemption in the understanding that he is just as much to blame for his successes as the supernatural puppeteers.
Matthew Pidgeon, who I saw earlier this season in an excellent play by Scottish playwright David Greig called Midsummer at the Traverse, was a good Shory, especially in the second act. Because of his character’s paralyzed legs, Pidgeon had to rely on his upper half to convey his cynical words of wisdom, which he did very well. Ron Donachie (Patterson Beeves, father of David and Amos) is also fine, playing particularly well the shattered father in act two.
Generally, the accents (trained by Lynn Bains, an American expatriate based in Edinburgh) were passable. Kim Gerard had a rather disagreeable whining quality in hers to go with her course portrayal of Hester. There were some minor errors elsewhere (a brief slip by Perry Snowdon in the second act into a Londoner’s English), but with the not too discriminate ear one should carry to a British production of an American play, there was not much to complain of. Greg Powrie, playing the foreign mechanic Gustav Eberson, delivers his accent well and consistently.
The Man Who Had All the Luck, while lacking the social and political relevance of The Crucible and Death of a Salesman, is a work that anyone with any worldly experience can relate to and learn from. All minor flaws in its presentation aside, this production is well worth a trip to the Lyceum.