The Man Who Had All the Luck

Arthur Miller
Donmar Warehouse
(2008)

Arthur Miller wrote The Man Who Had All the Luck when he was still a very young man. While there are some characteristic traits already visible in a play apparently based on a true story, it is very clearly the work of somebody learning their trade rather than a master of it.

This is a Midwestern parable or perhaps even fairytale that, like Death of a Salesman, focuses on a failing father, Nigel Cooke's Patrick Beeves, and the two sons in whom he has invested all of his vicarious hopes.

The younger generation represent brain and brawn. In the latter case, Amos played by Felix Scott has been bred by his protective father to pitch baseballs and is just waiting for his chance in the major leagues. This is Miller and it is not hard to guess the outcome of this dream.

His brother, David, played by relative stage newcomer Andrew Buchan, is a different animal completely. While only 21 when we first see him, this serious minded, fresh faced young man is already a successful businessman thanks to his self-taught skills as a car mechanic.

The only blight on his life is his prospective father-in-law, a violent bully who literally beats his daughter, Michelle Terry, as Hester and has no respect for the boy who would like to marry her.

As he goes through his life, it does seem that David attracts all of the luck that should by rights belong to the whole community.

In a tragic accident that leads to celebrations, father-in-law is killed on the road; when David can't fix a car that will lead to a long-term contract and financial security, a mysterious Austrian turns up at five in the morning with the solution; and when that same incomer, Shaun Dingwall's Gustav, sets up in opposition, his business fails and he becomes David's willing assistant and best friend.

You can't believe this man's luck and neither can he. He becomes insecure worrying that his run of good fortune must end with devastating consequences, reflecting the views of the impressive Aidan Kelly as Shory, a crippled war veteran with a massive chip on his shoulder.

Miller then helps the story along by introducing two potential stumbling blocks. First, there is a concern that either David or Hester is barren and the gorgeous wooden home that they occupy will never hear the patter of tiny feet.

Secondly, following the encouragement of James Hayes, playing the wealthiest man around and a potential benefactor, David recklessly invests the whole of his wealth in minks, little animals that can be worth ridiculous amounts of money but are also prone to die at the drop of a hat.

Willing bad luck along, David and Hester both do their best to achieve an unhappiness that suggests mental instability in one if not both cases. The problem here is that the situation is stylised so that it goes beyond the mythical or even possibly the biblical tale of Job to become no more than a literary conceit, one amongst far too many that the playwright uses to make his points.

Sean Holmes' production, designed by Paul Wills with wooden buildings with great gaps between the slats symbolising how uncertain life can be, eventually becomes infuriating as it moves further and further from reality. It seems obliged to do this in its efforts to allow the young writer, perfectly well played by Buchan, to exercise his creative muscles and test out theories that will eventually turn him into one of the greatest writers of the century.

Until 5th April. On Tour from 8th April visiting The Lowry, Liverpool Playhouse and Hall for Cornwall.

Philip Fisher