Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse and Royal & Derngate Northampton
Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
The 1950s was an exciting decade in American social history, unsurpassed perhaps in the scope of its sheer innovation. It was also a very turbulent decade. The American Dream was fuelled by the blood, sweat and tears of a silent army of migrant labourers.
Arthur Miller’s contemporary drama The Hook examines the lot of just one such ‘hero’. Marty Ferrara (Jamie Sives) along with his fellow Italian emigres is employed in the hazardous occupation of longshoreman, unloading ships down at the Brooklyn waterfront. The hook is the tool of their trade; it’s also the implement that binds them to their lives of toil.
Liverpool Everyman’s world première of this little-known Miller play presents a testosterone world of camaraderie and back-breaking labour, which, despite its brutality, bonds men together. Patrick Connellan’s mist-soaked set is the stuff of nightmares: a stark, no-frills warehouse which brings to mind the dark, satanic mills of Blake.
Make no mistake, Miller’s play is a stark, at times harrowing examination into the relationship between man and environment, between master and slave. Ferrara is a man of principle and, as a natural leader of men, a potential trouble-maker to union leader Louis, played with Hoskins-like menace by Joe Alessi.
James Dacre’s direction ensures a relentless pace as Ferrara fights for the rights of his fellow men. It’s a production that is nothing if not taut. The action is swift, signifying that events on the waterfront move fast. The relief of employment one day can all too easily be followed by the degradation of redundancy the next. This is a knife-edge world.
Clever staging allows some particularly swift cuts between stage top—home to Ferrara and his wife (Susie Trayling)—and stage bottom—the warehouse floor/meeting room. A series of winches and ropes as well as a generous dose of harbour water all add up to a definite naturalistic disposition.
Indeed, it’s the Everyman’s production values which are arguably the biggest triumph of the evening. Light and sound coalesce ominously. Visually this is compelling stuff.
It’s certainly no surprise to learn that The Hook had originally been intended for cinema release, for this production has an intriguingly filmic quality at its core. From the dozens of supporting extras habitually crossing the stage to a musical score that screams movie soundtrack, there’s more than a hint of the big screen about this production.
Performances are generally punchy throughout. The ensemble cast manage to communicate a good dose of the sheer physicality of their environment, one in which never far away lurks the threat of violence. In the character of Marty Ferrara, Miller creates a truly working class hero tormented by the demons of injustice and a character by whom the play lives or dies. As this modern-day Hamlet, Sives just about manages to pull off a believable blend of idealism and fragility—no easy task.
The Hook is a play that wears its heart very much on its sleeve. Liverpool Everyman has created a drama fuelled solely by its own integrity and thus as tense a piece of drama as you’re likely to encounter.
Reviewer: David Sedgwick