City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Review: The Man Who Had All the Luck

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 19 January 2009

Royal Lyceum: The Man Who Had All The Luck
Show Details
Royal Lyceum Company
John Dove (Director), Michael Taylor (Designer), Jeanine Davies (Lighting), Lynn Bains (Dialect coach)
Philip Cumbus (David), Andrew Vincent (JB Feller), Matthew Pigeon (Shory), Isabella Jarrett (Aunt Belle), Ron Donachie (Patterson), Perri Snowdon (Amos), Kim Gerard (Hester), Richard Annison (Dan), Greg Powrie (Gustav), Peter Harding (Andrew Falk/Augie Belfast)
Running time: 

Arthur Miller's literary talent as a dramatist began in the mid 1930s at the University of Michigan where he wrote two award winning plays, No Villain and Honours at Dawn. Graduating in 1938, he was determined to succeed as a writer but it took another six years before his next play, The Man Who Had all the Luck (which began as a novel) was accepted by a Broadway theatre.

Unfortunately it ran for only four performances after negative reviews in which, although Miller was praised for "excellent dialogue," it failed as good theatre. It took another 50 years before it was revived with productions in London, California and Broadway.

Many of Miller's psychologically astute plays are set within an intimate family group or community in which to study individual characters and close relationships between father and son, husband and wife or work colleagues.

The Man of the title is David Beeves, a motor mechanic in a small rural Midwest American town in the late 1930s, Depression era. The stage set features a car repair shop in an old barn, with oil drums, tools, period Coca Cola sign and even a gleaming classic vintage car. David is a clean cut, serious-minded young man, keen to work hard in order to marry his childhood sweetheart, Hester (the bright and bubbly Kim Gerard - who acts rather too hysterically at times in early scenes). He is focused on what he wants to do with his life, while being surrounded by a supportive father, his brother Amos and caring friends. His plans however are ruined by Hester's father who refuses to accept him as a suitable husband for his daughter, with the warning, "Don't touch anything I own."

But the dark rain clouds surrounding David's future are suddenly lifted as if the Gods are looking down on the couple. And good luck continues to follow him like a shadow such as when Gustav, a stranger in town appears like an "angel in disguise" to help him fix a car for an important customer.

David seems to be blessed with what appears to be supernatural good fortune which allows him to overcome all problems. In contrast his family and friends face stressful, difficult times: his father is desperate to train Amos as a professional baseball player and Gustav wants to find a red-haired wife. His friend Shory, confined to a wheelchair after the war, becomes more and more bitter and resentful of his tragic situation, believing that fate guides us and, like jelly fish washed to and fro by the tide, we have no control over our lives.  Philosophical analogies like this are sprinkled through the text, sharp, precious nuggets of gold which reflect Miller's natural voice for poetic language and dramatic dialogue.

The play - which Miller described as a Fable - relates David's story over the next four years. Life remains rosy for him but he begins to wonder when his luck will run out and he too will be forced to deal with failure or tragedy. The more success he achieves, the more guilty, depressed and paranoid he feels.  His initial boyish, carefree charm slowly shifts to a darker, insular personality, his changing mood incisively played by Philip Cumbus. As thunder claps in stormy weather outside, a crucial, tightly choreographed scene between Hester and Gustav reveals their heartfelt pain of the situation as they discuss this distraught, distant man.

The fine ensemble cast includes notable performances from Ron Donachie as David's father Patterson Beeves and Greg Powrie who plays Gustav with a quiet, gentle generosity of spirit.  Compared to the superb, realistic set design house and garden for previous Miller plays at the Lyceum, the stage set here is adequate but economical with the use of a black curtain for walls and exit doors; Lighting design is occasionally bizarre with a dark, night time view through the window while David talks about the bright glow of the morning sun.

As this play questions, is it luck, fate or hard work which dictates how life will pan out?  The harsh reviews of the premiere in 1944 only made Miller more determined to write for the stage.  His next play was All My Sons (1946) followed by Death of a Salesman (1949) which won a Tony Award, Critics Circle award and the Pulitzer Prize.

He specialised in dramatising stories about man's search for the elusive American Dream, personal fulfillment, a sense of freedom and faith in the world. It is timely therefore to revive this early play in the current era of global recession and unemployment, but also coinciding with an inspiring, fresh beginning at the White House which perhaps offers a sign of hope, change and determination - in true Milleresque American Dream fashion.

Royal Lyceum, 16th January-14 February 2009