Arthur Miller died in 2005 but the Jewish-American playwright’s legacy lives on nowhere more fully than in England, where Miller has long enjoyed a critical reverence and approbation that haven’t always come his way in his native US. That truism is borne out anew this season with an astonishing array of Miller revivals – six in all – happening in relatively quick succession, some involving big names and notable reappraisals and the others comparatively below the radar.
Regardless of their comparative prominence, these Miller sightings should allow London audiences the sort of concentrated immersion in a particular playwright that tends to be reserved for, say, themed seasons of Shakespeare. There’s no evidence that anyone was coordinating these disparate Miller sightings but, taken together, the six revivals should focus attention anew on a dramatist whose best-known play, Death of a Salesman, famously reminds us that “attention must be paid”.
That proven, and blistering, classic is amongst the sextet to be found this season and will be bringing up the rear in May, with a Young Vic production directed by the twice Tony-winning director Marianne Elliott (Company, War Horse). An A-list all-black cast includes Wendell Pierce, from TV’s The Wire, as the hapless Willy Loman and two major British names, Sharon D. Clarke and Arinze Kene, as, respectively, Willy’s wife, Linda, and the more conflicted of their two sons, Biff.
Before Salesman arrives, though, playgoers from mid-February onwards will have the opportunity to compare relatively well-known Miller with a slice of Miller esoterica. This study in contrasts includes on the one hand The Price, Miller’s funny yet also lacerating 1968 play about siblings and money and the junk we gather into our lives, both literal and metaphoric. A 50th anniversary production first mounted last summer at the Theatre Royal Bath, west of London, the director Jonathan Church’s reckoning with the text is opening February 11 at Wyndham’s Theatre on London’s West End. The starry four-person ensemble will be headed, as it was out of town, by David Suchet, known to generations of TV devotees as the ever-mustached Poirot, and Brendan Coyle, the stage veteran who found TV renown as Carson, the valet, in Downton Abbey. Adrian Lukis and Sara Stewart complete the cast.
During its Bath engagement, Suchet stole the lion’s share of the reviews for his performance as the ageing furniture dealer, Solomon: a character who may be nearing 90 but who clearly has a spring in his step yet. The part has long been catnip for actors ranging from Warren Mitchell in London to Danny DeVito, who was nominated for a Tony for the role in the play’s most recent Broadway revival, in March 2017. Suchet has long straddled the fine line between comedy and something darker, so should be ideal casting for a play that trades in Neil Simon laughs only to expose the forbidding fault lines that lie beneath a quartet of individuals, and the acquisitive society in which they exist.
If The Price is an established part of the Miller canon, the same cannot be said for The American Clock, a Miller play set during the 1930s that called it quits on Broadway after a scant 12 performances in 1980 despite a cast that included the author’s own sister, actress Joan Copeland, who received a Tony nomination for her performance as the family matriarch, Rose. The play then turned up in the repertory of London’s National Theatre in 1986 where it joined another Miller title, Broken Glass, as one of several Broadway discards to find considerably more favour in London. A few Off-Broadway and Off-West End revivals later, the same play is getting a major reappraisal, opening February 13 at the Old Vic Theatre, with a cast headed by Josie Walker and Clare Burt. A late addition to the ensemble is Giles Terera, who won an Olivier Award last spring for his role as Aaron Burr in Hamilton and has decamped from that ongoing smash hit to help illuminate Miller’s view of an ever-fractured, fractious America .
The director, intriguingly, is an American visitor to London, Rachel Chavkin, who knows a thing or two about bringing bustling canvases to the stage, having directed such musicals as Hadestown, which ran over Christmas at London’s National Theatre, and transfers Broadway in April. Though not strictly a musical per se, The American Clock will feature original music from the composer Justin Ellington (nephew of Duke) and boasts a cast more than capable of raising its voice in song. And while The American Clock may never occupy the Miller front rank, there’s value to be gleaned from understanding an artist’s work in context – something the Old Vic will make immediately possible when it follows up this production with the director Jeremy Herrin’s star-packed revival of the playwright’s All My Sons, whose cast includes Bill Pullman and Sally Field, both making their British stage debuts, and the incomparable Colin Morgan, whose theatre work in recent productions of Translations and Gloria has been a glory in itself.
Keeping with time-honoured American titles, London and New York have both been blessed of late with noteworthy revivals of Fiddler on the Roof, the much-cherished 1964 Jerry Bock–Sheldon Harnick musical about familial and cultural displacement and dispossession set in the Russian shtetl of Anatevka in the early years of the 20th century. London’s Menier Chocolate Factory continues to host, through March 9, a rending production of the show from the veteran 79-year-old English director Trevor Nunn.
But whereas one might expect Sir Trevor to tackle Fiddler at some point in his storied career, an entirely separate production of the same musical has become a particular phenomenon of sorts across the Atlantic. As directed by no less a figure than the Oscar – and Tony-winning – star of Cabaret, Joel Grey, who will be 87 in April, the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene production of Fiddler continues to carve out a neat patch for itself in New York. First seen last summer at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in downtown Manhattan, the production has been extended four times and is moving to its new uptown perch at Stage 42 in the heart of Times Square. Steven Skybell is a more handsome, less portly Tevye the milkman than is customary in a city that has taken this most directly resonant of musicals once again to heart.
The news value here is the fact that Grey’s period staging is performed in Yiddish with English and Russian surtitles; the translation, by Shraga Friedman, was first used in an Israeli production of the show in 1965, not long after Fiddler’s Broadway bow. Here’s to reinventing the classics afresh and, as the song title in Fiddler famously puts it, “l’chaim – to life!”