Kings Head Theatre, London – until 26 September 2015
Review by Liz Dyer
Everything happens for a reason, or so a popular saying would have us believe. But what is the reason? Who, or what, decides who succeeds and who fails? Is it ever possible to go through life without making a mistake, or suffering any misfortune?
These are some of the questions at the heart of Arthur Miller’s The Man Who Had All The Luck, revived by End of Moving Walkway on the centenary of Miller’s birth. David Beeves is a lucky man, in love, business, and life in general. Everything he wants, he gets, one way or another, even as all those around him fail, one by one. Eventually, David comes to the realisation that a crisis must be inevitable for him too – but what will it be, and will waiting for it ultimately drive him mad?
Arthur Miller’s first play to be produced back in 1944, this is a morality tale for the modern age, made up of a series of short, sharp lessons – and as in most fables, the story at times feels a little convenient, shaped as it is to fit the central message. While David is the protagonist, all the supporting characters have their own tale of woe, revealing that each has a flaw which has somehow prevented them achieving the one thing they always wanted. Meanwhile David, a humble, self-made man who works hard, loves his wife and supports his friends and brother, not only never seems to put a foot wrong, but constantly has blessings raining down on him. So begins an ongoing debate throughout the play on whether our fate is decided purely by chance, or if we’re responsible for making our own luck.
Jamie Chandler gives an impressive performance as David, capturing both the earnest, fresh-faced young man with the world at his feet, and his slow descent towards the end of the play, as he constantly waits for his curse to strike. Alex Warner is instantly likeable as Gus, a perfectly timed newcomer to town, who becomes both David’s best friend and voice of reason, and Keith Hill provides comedy and heartbreak in equal measure as the hero’s misguided father, Pat. In a male-dominated play, Chloe Walshe provides a lone female voice in David’s wife Hester. Utterly devoted as she is to her husband, Hester’s journey follows his almost exactly, and yet Walshe’s powerful, emotional performance ensures she has her own fiery personality and never goes unnoticed.
In an interesting twist, director Paul Lichtenstern has four characters – Belle, Dan Dibble, Andrew Falk and Augie Belfast – played by one actor, Peter Dineen, and summarised in the cast list as simply ‘Man’. This is initially a touch confusing; the only real difference in appearance between Dan Dibble and Andrew Falk is a pair of glasses, and Belle in the original script is David’s aunt. But the arrangement introduces a new angle to the question of fate; each of these characters brings life-changing tidings of some kind, and so we’re left with the feeling that perhaps this is the true man with all the luck, to distribute among humanity as he sees fit. And if that’s the case, what does it mean for each of us?
The Man Who Had All The Luck is at times funny, at others heartbreaking. While many of the events happen suddenly, with no warning, others – particularly Amos’ story, which dominates Act Two – have an inevitability about them that does nothing to ease the devastation when everything falls apart. Claire Winfield’s minimalist set works really well, letting the script and the actors tell the story (although I’m still frustrated that I don’t know what a Marmon is), and revealing a hidden secret in the closing minutes.
This is an impressive new production of one of Arthur Miller’s lesser-known works. Though the story – and particularly its conclusion – may not be entirely convincing, it’s nonetheless uplifting and makes you think and reflect on your own life, just as much as that of the characters on stage. With a strong cast and intimate staging at the King’s Head Theatre, this play is definitely worth checking out.