The Last Yankee

Bolton Library Theatre

Written by Arthur Miller

Directed by David Thacker

This production of The Last Yankee feels like a particularly special opportunity to see a play by iconic American director Arthur Miller. Staged in a newly developed and very intimate theatre space, this is a chance to see Miller’s work directed by the man who has directed more of his plays than anyone else. David Thacker knew Miller personally and directed the 1993 British première of The Last Yankee as his last production at The Young Vic.

The play looks at how two men and their clinically depressed wives respond to time spent in a psychiatric hospital. The central theme is one of disappointment and how that can corrode our sense of self and our relationships with others. Miller himself had experience of being husband to a woman vulnerable to depressive episodes during his marriage to Marilyn Monroe. The play also uses much of Miller’s absorption with how the past informs the present.

The first act is a slow burn of social awkwardness and tentative male bonding as the very different husbands try to make sense of mental illness. Frick, a successful businessman and Hamilton, a carpenter descended from a founding father of American democracy find nothing that unites their wives. Rich/Poor. Kids/No kids. Lost optimism/Swedish lack of optimism. These men are lost without a premise to explain why their wives are psychiatric patients. Patrick Poletti as Frick and David Ricardo-Pearce as Hamilton are utterly convincing as two very different men both broken in their own ways by their attempts to cope with their wives’ mental illness.

The wives appear in the second act having formed their own connection. Karen is a first time patient and is discomobulated by the medication and terribly vulnerable in her desire to be accepted. Played with sweet desperation by Annie Tyson, she portrays a wife who imagines herself a disappointment to her husband having been cruelly rejected by her own mother. It is only through music and dance that she fully comes alive with childlike glee that her bewildered husband struggles to comprehend. The scenes where she performs are tender and filled with tentative hope from a woman who had “lost her optimism.”

Juliet Aubrey captivates as the frequent flier, savvy to the effects of all the medication. Although bewildered as to what, if anything is actually wrong with her, she dryly acknowledges that “Anybody with any sense would be depressed in this country.” Brittle and full of nervous twitching energy, she exudes charm. Still beautiful despite having seven children and feeling “a torn off rag of my old self” she is drug free for 21 days after 15 years. As her and her husband exchange truths about their life together, a picture appears of loss, potential never fully realised, disappointments and resentments. These moments on stage are there in so many relationships but highlight our human vulnerability to cope in a changing world that we may struggle to understand.

Stark staging creates a sterile environment for these fragile humans to come together and is a fitting backdrop to play out messy, confused emotions. A bed is always occupied by a third unmoving, possibly catatonic women who is a poignant reminder of just how cruel depression is. The Last Yankee is a deeply satisfying watch and Thacker’s rich understanding of Miller’s work ensures that this intimate staging works beautifully.

Bolton Library Theatre 28th Feb – 16th March

Images Joel Fiddes

Every Brilliant Thing

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THE EDGE THEATRE

A Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre Company
Cast James Rowland
Writer Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe
Director George Perrin

You are seven years old and your Dad tells you that your Mum has done a stupid thing. Actually your Mum is in hospital and has just tried to commit suicide. You feel guilty that you’re clearly not enough to make her want to stay alive. You’re seven years old and you need your Mum to want to stay alive. So you start to write a list of every brilliant thing which might just make her want to stay alive.
This a play with perfect pitch. It delivers on every level. What could be mawkish and heavy handed is instead life affirming and delightful. There is unbridled energy in this performance and absolute glee in each interaction but also moments of real affect where Rowland describes the reality of depression on relationships and family and the lasting impact on children.
This award winning play has toured America and Australia as well as Edinburgh Fringe and lots of small regional theatres here. It is a play that could easily run and run as it has a lot to say about life and due to its format every performance will be unique.
There is no big cast or eye catching set or clever lighting to hide behind. There is just a great script and soundtrack, with one actor on stage who is engaging with the audience well before the performance starts and whose impact lingers long after he has left the stage.
This is a uniquely engaging performance in that it exists only through the audience participating in an act of trust and taking on a range of roles on stage. Foreman gives out post it notes or annotated sketches or coffee stained scraps as the audience is first seated. As he calls out the numbers on the papers each participant becomes a part of the performance. Others are deftly engaged as actors voicing roles such as the veterinarian who euthanizes his first pet dog or the narrator’s father or his first love.
The success of each show relies on a willingness to participate that is elucidated by pure charm and warmth. From start to finish this ensures the attention of all involved as we wait for a cue for our part. The result is a theatre space full of energy and life. As the list grows so does the confidence of the participants as we move from the 7 year old child listing-

3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV.
To the teenager-
994 Hairdressers who listen to what you want.
To the adult in love-
1009 Dancing in public, fearlessly.
9995 Falling in love.
To the man who has known depression and loss-
999998 Inappropriate songs played at emotional moments.
1000000 Listening to a record for the first time……
Adding to the list I write-
1000001 Watching Every Beautiful Thing on a Summer evening at The Edge Theatre.

TOURING