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George Turvey and Helen Cole in No Villan at London's Old Red Lion Theatre

No Villain – Old Red Lion Theatre, London

Writer: Arthur Miller

Director: Sean Turner

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

 

It is said that the first work of all writers is, to some extent, autobiographical. Arthur Miller was the son of a Jewish New York women’s clothing manufacturer who lost everything in the Great Depression. Therefore, it should come as no great surprise that his debut play is set in 1936 and centred on a Jewish family, owners of a New York women’s clothing manufacturing business that is facing bankruptcy. What really surprises is that the play is only now getting its World Premiere.

Themes that recurred throughout Miller’s career are prominent here and his sympathies towards the left of American politics are unmistakeable. At the play’s heart is a family that yearns for new generations to make further strides towards achieving the American dream, yet instinctively draws them back into its own fold.

Personal ambitions and social conscience come into conflict. Cross-generational duty and guilt are seen to influence individuals’ actions. Perhaps Esther, the mother in this play, blinded by her unflinching devotion to the family, reappears as the grieving mother in All My Sons. Can Abe, the father facing up to his own failure, be the prototype for Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman?

David Bromley and Nesba Crenshaw are moving as Abe and Esther, struggling in contrasting ways to hold the family together. A teenage daughter features little, but two older sons provide the focus for a clash of values. George Turvey’s Ben is solid and rational, unable to escape the family business, but realising that it needs to change with the times.

Adam Harley’s Arnold is an idealist and aspiring writer, presumably based on Miller himself. He returns home from college on the West Coast with his head full of Marxist theories. When a choice has to be made between allowing the family business to go under and breaking a strike to save it, Ben shares his brother’s political views, but chooses the business. Arnold cannot bring himself to follow him.

The play is not flawless. For example, the characters of the daughter (Helen Coles), grandfather (Kenneth Jay) and warehouse labourer (Anton Cross) need to be better fleshed out in order to support developments in the drama, However, it is remarkably well shaped for a first effort, painting a picture of the family during a short period of trauma, rather than building to a single dramatic climax.

Sean Turner’s production, played in an intimate space in one act, is crafted lovingly in every detail and is riveting throughout its 90 minutes running time. Overcoming the problems of a play that requires four scene changes, Max Dorey’s simple living room design transforms quickly into a clothing warehouse.

The reason why Miller’s early work has taken so long to reach the stage remains a mystery, but any argument that it is dated should be given little credence. At a time when the writer’s vision for America contrasts so sharply with that of, say, Donald Trump, the play could hardly ever have been more topical.

Runs until 9 January 2016 | Image Cameron Harle

 

Writer: Arthur Miller Director: Sean Turner Reviewer: Stephen Bates   It is said that the first work of all writers is, to some extent, autobiographical. Arthur Miller was the son of a Jewish New York women’s clothing manufacturer who lost everything in the Great Depression. Therefore, it should come as no great surprise that his debut play is set in 1936 and centred on a Jewish family, owners of a New York women’s clothing manufacturing business that is facing bankruptcy. What really surprises is that the play is only now getting its World Premiere. Themes that recurred throughout Miller’s career…

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