No Villain

Arthur Miller
Turner Theatre Limited
Old Red Lion

Adam Harley Credit: Cameron Harle
Nesba Crenshaw, Helen Cole, George Turvey & David Bromley Credit: Cameron Harle
Nesba Crenshaw as Esther and David Bromley as Abe Credit: Cameron Harle

It is pleasing to be able to offer wholehearted congratulations to the Old Red Lion, a small venue even as pub theatres go.

One struggles to comprehend how any play by Arthur Miller could have remained hidden for 80 years prior to its world première.

This intense 80-minute drama, brought to the stage by director Sean Turner, was Miller’s first ever completed play but it has somehow eluded producers until 2015, the centenary of his birth.

The obvious question that the world always asks when a play (or novel for that matter) remains undiscovered for generations is whether the reason for its disappearance is the writer’s embarrassment or merely the work’s lack of saleability.

While No Villain might not be as polished as the more mature pieces, it is characteristic of the style that would make Arthur Miller one of the leading playwrights of the 20th century.

The easiest way to describe a play written when its creator was 20 is to ask readers to consider a dramatic exercise creating a back-story for the characters in Death of a Salesman, drawing closely on the autobiographical information that we know about the author’s youth.

The drama takes place in 1936 at two locations cleverly recreated by designer Max Dorey. The first is the Simon family home in New York, presumably Brooklyn.

Here, David Bromley as Abe and Nesba Crenshaw portraying his wife, Esther, play the opening scene with George Turvey in the role of elder son Ben and, a novelty here, Maxine a daughter of perhaps 12 played by Helen Coles.

The family struggles to contain its collective anxiety and excitement at the impending return from college of Adam Harley as their intellectual son/brother Arnie.

Already, the parallels are building. Arnie must be Artie Miller, Ben might be Biff, while the Simons are the Lomans.

Once Arnie arrives, the play moves beyond the family into the social and political sphere. Abe runs a factory that sells fur coats or more accurately does not, since a strike is preventing him from moving stock to customers.

Having already failed twice in business, he is delusional about the prospect of striking lucky on this third occasion, as we see when the action moves to his office.

While the menfolk are credible characters, Esther is neurotic and borderline hysterical about pretty much everything, being far less developed as a character than her successors or for that matter the rest of the family.

Ben does his best to keep the family business afloat but Arnie already has “communistic” ideas and ideals, regarding his father’s business as a perfectly acceptable pawn in the war for equality and a future similar to that in Russia.

The result is a satisfying evening that will inevitably make anyone familiar with the writer’s work think particularly of Salesman but also some other works in the oeuvre.

Anyone Arthur Miller fan should rush down to the Angel before tickets for this short run sell out. They will not be disappointed. However, if that doesn’t work, there must be every prospect that the play will see the light of day again in far less than 80 years’ time.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher