University of Bolton
Bolton Library Theatre
28 February 2019 - 16 March 2019, 2 hr 5 min with interval
Two married couples, each coping with mental illness, could hardly make this play more relevant.
Except that this is a 1990s period piece of writing by titan of modern literature, Arthur Miller, so the fault lines it examines in personal relationships run rather deeper into the fabric of American society.
In the first act, respective husbands Leroy (David Ricardo-Pearce) and John (Patrick Poletti) meet for the first time in a hospital waiting area and are drawn into discussion of the depression that afflicts both of their spouses. It’s a conversation that reveals as much about their own fragility, and background, as that of their wives.
The play then moves into the hospital ward, where Patricia (Juliet Aubrey) and Karen (Annie Tyson) brace themselves for their visitors’ arrival. What follows is a gripping and moving account of lives laid bare by perceptions of what counts for fulfilment in modern society.
The mirrors, used as a backdrop to the sterile ward setting of Ciaran Bagnall’s stage design, deliberately reflect a large part of the audience into the ‘debate’, while the semi-circular setting of this venue suggests almost an autopsy held in a medical lecture theatre.
Add in such details as the character Leroy being an artisan descendant of US founding father Alexander Hamilton (that’s right, the one from the hit musical!) or even the fact that Arthur Miller himself, at one time, was married to Marilyn Monroe – a woman whose own life typified the success and failure of the American Dream – and it’s fair to say there’s a lot to absorb in two hours of confined and combative drama.
Juliet Aubrey is quite mesmerising as a restless spirit of motherhood. Beside her the stillness of Annie Tyson makes a vivid difference. The acting throughout is peerless.
Then again this is a production by David Thacker, whose time as artistic director at Bolton Octagon created memorable revivals of other Miller plays. Both men enjoyed close collaboration together in the 90s, and it was a partnership whose dividend is again abundantly evident here.