The Last Yankee

Arthur Miller
Print Room, Notting Hill

Kika Markham Credit: Ellie Kurtz
Andy de la Tour and Paul Hickey Credit: Ellie Kurtz

Nowadays, when he is regarded as a theatrical King Midas, with everything that he wrote seemingly turned to stage gold, it is easy to forget that Arthur Miller spent a long period in the doldrums.

In its own country, the much-maligned and politically ostracised playwright struggled to get works produced and, when they were, everybody seemed to hate them.

He was not alone in suffering a fallow period. Even William Shakespeare had a century or two when his masterworks gathered dust.

The Last Yankee comes from 1993, which was long after the glory days and so the question arises as to whether the problem rested with the plays or was merely one of those quirks of fashion that can afflict artists in any field?

As so often with Miller, this is a play about the death of The Great American Dream.

In this case, it is viewed through the prism of a Connecticut state mental institution in which two women are incarcerated suffering from little more than bad cases of nerves.

The opening sees two contrasting husbands. Paul Hickey's LeRoy Hamilton is the latest in a line that stretches back to the Founding Fathers. However, as bumptious, nouveau riche Frick played by Andy de la Tour is so keen to point out, he is only a carpenter. The father of seven just happens to be very good with wood but very bad at business.

Childless Frick has an old American name but has pulled himself up by his bootstrings to get wealthy. He is also bigoted to a scary degree.

Matilda Ziegler's Patty Hamilton comes from an aristocratic Swedish family farm which few manage to complete life's natural course, suicide being endemic.

However, despite her presence in the asylum, she seems as right as rain, having bravely given up the pills that have blighted her life, not to mention those of LeRoy and their numerous children, none older than 19, for the last 15 years.

Childless Karen Frick is in a rather worse way but desperate lack of self-confidence evaporates when she tap dances, Kika Markham effortlessly showing the skills of an old trouper.

What we quickly discover when impatient husbands and stressed wives meet is that the men are not only the reason why their wives are dotty but have some pretty serious problems themselves, symbolising the way in which Miller believes that his country has gone wrong.

The Last Yankee may only last 70 minutes but provides plenty of food for thought, helped by a strong cast under the direction of Cathal Cleary. As such, this revival is well worth a visit.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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