The Print Room in Notting Hill is a venue in its infancy. It has been running for under three years but is a place to watch for its revival of little known work from classic writers, and its use as a platform for new writing and experimental art forms. The Last Yankee is a little-known short play by Arthur Miller that explores the strains of clinical depression on two women, their respective husbands, and their family’s loss of the American Dream.
John Frick (Andy De La Tour) and LeRoy Hamilton (Paul Hickey) visit their wives in hospital, and discover the polarisation between each other’s ways of life, values and outlook. Frick wants to interrogate Hamilton to try and ‘solve’ why both of their wives (Kika Markham and Matilda Ziegler) are so depressed. He is stumped by the oddity of Hamilton’s life: although he is a descendent of the writer of the American constitution, he has chosen not to follow the path of his ancestors, in order to become a carpenter. The miserly Frick cannot understand Hamilton’s good will and willingness to work for little money to feed his love of carpentry, and Hamilton cannot understand Frick’s dispassion and obsession with money, highlighting the misunderstanding between the labouring classes in post-war America and the snobbery of white-collar college graduates.
The Last Yankee is a subtle and nuanced show. Paul Hickey wins the audience over with his sympathetic portrait of Leroy Hamilton, a man whose incessant optimism covers his disappointment and inability to provide for his children. Kika Markham’s Karen Frick has been beaten down by her misogynist husband, and displays a moment of painful independence as she presents the tap-dance she has practised in order to gain her husband’s love and attention, by which he is just embarrassed. After this, she crumples in an emotional state: the housewife who is afraid and beaten by life, now mocked by the jazzy top hat and tails she is wearing.
Miller’s language is succinct and low-key, with the climaxes in the narrative coming in emotional peaks as the couples argue, or sustain small talk in the hospital waiting room. The director Cathal Cleary and the designer Jamie Vartan have worked hard to keep the set very simple, reflecting unspoken fears in the dashed dreams of many post-war Americans. The audience, sitting on low seating with their backs to the two walls of the ‘clinic’, feel like they are also sitting in the waiting room to visit a relative or to be medically examined, thus adding to the show’s sense of claustrophobia.
The Print Room welcomes you into the world of the play by dressing the box office as a mental health clinic: there are pill boxes strewn everywhere on the way to the toilets, and the audience are all offered a ‘Prozac’ sweet on exit. This venue’s production team (headed up by the Artistic Director Anda Winters and Producer Veronica Humphries) are pulling out the stops to give your theatrical experience in The Print Room that little bit extra, regardless of if you are going to watch a very straight Arthur Miller play or join the camaraderie for one of their forthcoming film screenings. This is a very well thought-through production in a venue whose output is something to watch over the next few seasons.
The Last Yankee is on at The Print Room until 5 October. For more information and tickets, please visit The Print Room website. Photo by Ellie Kurttz