Dir: Michael Emas, Theatre Royal, 1st – 5th Sept 2015
Played out upon the wooden frontyard decking of the Keller family home, Rapture Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s 1947 play examines the consequences of capitalism’s clutches on a war torn nation. “I’m practical now”, states a disheartened, betrayed Chris Keller (Robert Jack) to his corrupt businessman father, Joe (David Tarkenter), “and I spit on myself”. Being practical works well in both war and business, being human does not.
This is a play that simmers from the beginning. Just as Kate Keller (Trudie Goodwin) performs artificial niceties pretending to deny the death of her missing son Larry, the consequences of family business cover-ups and neighbourhood speculation begin to boil through to the surface paving the way for the explosive but inevitable conclusion.
The one set throughout, designed by Neil Murray, adds to the claustrophobia of the drama. Neighbours come and go daily, gossip slips from mouth to mouth and the broken tree planted to commemorate lost Larry stands centre stage for all to see. This inward looking existence feels inescapable, smiles must be put on, socialising must be done and, for son Chris, there is no means of forging a future elsewhere.
Yet it is the outward perspective which Miller emphasises here. There is life and people and heartache outside the bubble of the Keller household. Joe’s realisation that not just Larry but all men lost at war were his sons stifles the individualistic, profit-making, insular mindset which has so-far served his conscience.
Though set in post-war America, with the sweetheart necklines and fedora hats to match, Miller’s play transcends the particulars of its time. We are left reminded of the hierarchies which prevail, of the carelessness of free markets and the fact that, when all is said and done, those at the top will protect themselves while those lower down the pecking order take the bullets in their place. War makes ruthless money and this play’s reminder is as timely today as it was in 1947.
This article originally appeared in Qmunicate magazine.