The Man Who Had All the Luck is a small offering from a big name: Arthur Miller. It’s not on any GCSE syllabus to be gratuitously laboured through with a fine toothed comb. It’s not been done to death and played by every middle aged actor to have graced the West End; in fact, it’s barely been done on these shores at all. It has all the usual Miller-isms, a tragic hero whose life trajectory is as an insular ranger in a tight knit community. It has some of his classic themes; loyalty, love, family, clubbing together in Miller’s classic way of telling a very human, very real story. So why and how has The Man Who Had All the Luck slipped through the net? There are a few issues with the writing; it’s clearly an early work before he’d fully honed his skills, made a name for himself, married Marilyn and all that carry-on. But the main issue is his attempt to subvert the tragic hero, for the protagonist to have all the luck and yet still be tragic. I mean, just how much sympathy can you have for a man with the midas touch?
From his entry into manhood David’s awareness of being luckier than those around him becomes acute. With it, he feels a sense of displacement, his friends and community find unity in their shared experience of the peaks and troughs of life. David’s suffering in only experiencing the peaks, consists of the guilt he feels about the failures of his friends and the paranoia of pending bad luck looming over his day to day success. It’s not wholly effective, largely because of the gaping holes in the narrative; the successes that David experiences rush by, whilst the majority of the stage time is taken up by his moaning about said success.
This particular production is not without its flaws, but is largely strong. The King’s Head Theatre Pub, is exactly what it says on the tin: intimate, atmospheric, slightly pokey and under sound proofed. The main challenge in staging something at the King’s Head is the shape of the space. The audience are somewhat uncomfortably arranged around a thrust stage, which is not used especially effectively. I’d say 70% of the dialogue was delivered with the actors’ backs to my section of the audience — could do better.
Performance wise, though, it is a completely different story; the accomplished cast bring the story over these hurdles and into the audience’s consciousness. Protagonist David is played with drive and tone by Jamie Chandler as he leads the cast with precision and impeccable control. Keith Hill plays his father Pat with on point and unshakeable characterisation, likewise Gus (Alex Warner) maintains his characterisation with an impressively sturdy strength. David’s wife Hester (Chloe Walshe) balances support and varied emotion gracefully. On the other hand, Peter Dineen, billed as Man, multi-roles at least three men, but for some reason they’re all Irish, while the rest of the cast is American (though Michael Kinsey as Amos finds the upkeep of his accent so much of a challenge that he just gives up on it in the end).
It is definitely worth paying a visit to the King’s Head, not just for its incredible atmosphere but also, more specifically, to see this mostly stellar cast strutting their stuff in this relatively unknown Miller.
The Man Who Had All the Luck plays the King’s Head Theatre until September 27. For more information and tickets, see the King’s Head Theatre website.
Photo: George Linfield