No Villain – Trafalgar Studios, London

Writer: Arthur Miller
Director: Sean Turner
Reviewer: Daniel Perks

After its highly successful run at the Old Red Lion Theatre last year, there was much to expect from No Villain, the newly unearthed seminal work from one of the 20thCentury’s great playwrights. This Arthur Miller play more transparently holds a mirror up to his own life in comparison with much of his later work. It isn’t difficult to see a caricature of Miller himself in the middle child, Arnold (Alex Forsyth), a progressive thinker and creative spirit in a world of industry at the height of its manufacturing power. Sean Turner’s production has an undercurrent of unrest at its heart, a bubbling tension that the failing family business only serves to exacerbate.

Abe (David Bromley) sits as the patriarchal head of the Simon family in troubled times. The distribution business is failing, wife Esther (Nesba Crenshaw) is all but falling apart with worry and eldest son, Ben (George Turvey) resents the responsibility forced on to him to sacrifice his career aspirations in favour of pitching in. If only middle child Arnold (Forsyth) was around to help out too; unfortunately he is seemingly living the intellectual life at college, surrounded by progressive, communist comrades. Not the future that Esther desired for her mollycoddled son and something that only serves to add fuel to her nervous, hysterical disposition.

Miller’s script leaves a good deal unsaid between members of this ‘riches to rags’ family, a need for the dialogue to have space to breathe so that the audience can interpret the complex and layered relationships. Turner’s production doesn’t always allow for this and as result the conversations tend to explode without a sufficient build-up; Ben and Abe are particularly prone to spontaneous eruption where the business is concerned. Both are the strongest actors in the cast with a highly developed understanding of their characters’ motivations and morals, but there is a lack of clarity that muddies the waters and leaves the recipient confused at the end. Likewise, Arnold’s new-found Communist compass is clearly at odds with Abe’s old-fashioned idea that education is a gateway to economic success and not an opportunity to spout new wave philosophical notions. Again, this is never really addressed throughout the production, a topic that could elevate Turner’s vision from middle of the road to deep and meaningful.

Americaof the1930s is a world on the brink of changing forever – out with the old and embracing the new. Max Dorey’s wooden, evocative set and Richard Melkonian’s novel jazz-influence compositions harkback to the life once lived, but without enough drive from Turner to propel No Villain into a future unknown.

Runs until 23 July 2016 | Image: Cameron Harle

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