The performance had all the raging emotions of a Greek tragedy – played out under the dying sun of the American Dream. Dave Porter, in under two weeks, has given life to Miller’s post-war drama; colouring the stage with guilt, tears, disillusionment and ideals.
As we entered the auditorium and laid our eyes on the set, there was a collective gasp and a murmur of “Oh my God”. Courtesy of Emily Davenport’s set design, a thick turf of real grass littered with crumpled leafs and cushioning the front porch of an idyllic American homestead covered the stage floor. Apart from the fresh, natural smell, the image was brought to life by the warm glow of the lighting created by Technical Director, Tessa Denney.
The Keller family, living off the fruits of the American Dream, are haunted by an accident that was caused by faulty plane parts from Joe Keller’s (Izzy Scrimshire) factory; this led 21 pilots to crash to their deaths. Meanwhile, Kate Keller (Jess Courtney) restlessly waits for news of her son Larry, refusing to believe in his death.
Despite my adoration and astonishment at the level of detail in the production, when we left the auditorium after the first Act, the play had not yet fully got into its stride. The pace was slow and slightly clunky, as the actors and audience settled into the story. The dramatic premise was there, but the energy on stage did not quite capture the tension behind Miller’s heavily worded play and the lights lowered without the cogs of the plot having truly been set in motion.
Nevertheless, there were elements of this Act which started to involve us more emotionally with the characters. The chemistry between Jono Lake (Chris Keller) and Alice Hildreth (Ann Deever) blossomed once they were left alone on stage. Their shyness of each other, made clear from their embarrassment to stand too close, was also apparent in their awkward first kiss. The couple were more like children than the standard lovers of the theatre, perfectly indicating their blissful ignorance of the gritty realism which was to come.
When we returned to our seats, after the interval, the performance truly began. The pace quickened with the entrance of Ann’s brother, George, played by Ajay Stevenson, whose appearance raised the ghosts of the past. As he paced agitatedly, breathing heavily, twitching like a lizard, the audience’s breath was caught. The first Act had already shown us the potential of the actors’ performance, but now their talent was let loose to consume our senses and stir our blood.
Izzy Scrimshire was stunning in his portrayal of Joe Keller; every tremble, every twitch of his lip, brought the character to life with astounding energy. His eyes widened with fear as he saw his life slipping through his fingers. However, the stage was stolen by Jess Courtney. With her gravitas, authoritative voice and measured performance not once falling into pantomime melodrama (which a lesser actress may have stumbled into), she played the role of Kate with ease and dignity. As it built to the climax of the story and Kate fought to keep her hope in Larry’s survival alive, I am not ashamed to say that tears came to my eyes more than once. Jono Lake’s performance as Chris, the character who has the greatest development through the story, was executed perfectly. There was a captivating power radiating from the stage, particularly during the most climatic moments in the final Act as Chris turned on his father.
The American accents were also adopted well; there were only a few slips into British tones in Act One, and it was hard to distinguish which actors were ‘real life’ Americans – the friend with me incorrectly guessed who the two American cast members were!
The powerful leads were impressively supported by the neighbours, appearing like a Greek chorus. The theme of lost love was shown in the character of Lydia Lubey, beautifully acted by Lizzie Frainier, and underlying uncertainty and lies were shown in Lucy Vallance’s feisty portrayal of Sue Bayliss. A note of refreshing comedy was brought in by Bert (Emily Zinkin) and Frank Lubey (Joe Todd), who played the unsuspecting and chirpy neighbour. Alex Lambert (Jim Bayliss) gave us a touching performance in his quiet dialogue with Kate; his line “alone to watch a star go out”, delivered so simply, captured the essence of the play’s exploration of loss of faith.
Director Dave Porter claimed in the programme, that this was a tragedy “of the human soul” and “it was of utmost importance to me to do justice to it” and as I left the theatre, still numb with the thrilling emotion of sorrow, I was convinced that he certainly had done just that.
Eve Wersocki Morris