Phil Wilmott looks at the past through the lens of the present in his revival of Arthur Miller’s 1980 play, inspired by Studs Terkel’s Hard Times, in which Americans tell the story of the depression in their own words. In the Finborough’s slick production the stage is turned into a private view exhibition launch in which sharply dressed bankers look at, but don’t really see, images of suffering from 1930s America. Perhaps they are not even aware that their own actions might have similar consequences.
From out of these smartly framed images spills Miller’s sprawling narrative, taking in the gold rush and the farmers uprising, a middle class family’s struggle as belts are tightened and jewellery pawned, a farmer’s journey across states in search of work, the plight of a cotton picker, the resignation of the president of General Electric and a host of other snapshots. The scope is impressive, even if it leaves you hankering for Miller’s tighter family dramas of social questions. We certainly brush past concerns from more familiar plays along the way.
The American Clock is at its best when dealing with the Baum family’s eviction from their comfortable lives and winding up in shabby Brooklyn. Issy van Randwyck, Michael J Hayes and Michael Benz deliver shining performances as the central trio. Scenes where son Lee Baum sacrifices the university career of his peers for a steady job strike a particular chord and are the reason why this play is so deserving of another look as part of the Finborough’s ReDiscoveries season.
Miller’s play does offer a glimmer of hope that if we wait and maybe, as Rose Baum naively implores throughout, believe, then things will get better. For all the lights at the end of the tunnel, though, we mustn’t forget the trail of destruction left behind. But we did forget, and Miller, and Wilmott in his clever but imposing staging, are unequivocal about where the fault lies.
The American Clock is playing a the Finborough Theatre until 21 April. For more information and tickets, see the Finborough Theatre website.