Pros: A superbly acted play that not only provides context to Miller’s later work but stands on its own with gusto.
Cons: The pacing is a tad off and the script is sometimes more tell than show.
No Villain follows a family in crisis. The household awaits son Arny’s return from university. While Arny has been away, family life has been disrupted. The family business is threated by strike action and a family member has died. Marxism plays a prominent role in the show. Arny returns from university as a socialist and the striking workers at the warehouse of the family business threaten to bring all their lives to disaster.
No Villain, written in 1936, is the first play Arthur Miller ever wrote. The show is clearly is based on Miller’s own life. His father was a women’s clothing manufacturer during the Great Depression. We see the influence of Miller’s own upbringing as the play portrays an older generation tragically clinging to a tired regime as the younger generation rages for change.
In what seems like some kind of miracle, the Old Red Lion’s 2015 production is the show’s first performance. I have read up before my arrival, so I know Miller wrote this play in just six days. I expect the play to be a bit naff! Who can make a first attempt at writing a play in six days and expect the results to be decent? Why would it have not been put on before if it were any good? Why did Miller himself not decide to publish it?
The main challenge for this play is to distance itself from all the hype and history of the playwright to see if it can stand on its own feet. The last thing the director, cast and crew want is to portray ‘a museum piece’. In this the team do a tremendous job. The stage set is full of atmosphere, with all the bustle and intricacy of a 1930s living room as well as the commotion and tension of the warehouse. A lot of the joy of the script is in the details. Everything seems personal and everything is shared. The only clock in the house is in the kitchen, and there is much contention over the music on the radio. But the acting is what really makes this show brilliant. I am totally drawn in. There is such a subtlety and grace in the direction that even when the script cuts corners with character or story development, the cast handle it with confidence.
You can feel Miller’s inexperience in the script at times. Sometimes it feels like someone is reading a pamphlet on Marxism at you. However, the acting, direction and passion make up for this lack of subtlety. Plus the energy of the writing is ever present despite its limitations. Indeed, you can see the foundations of some of Miller’s later and most famous characters burgeoning in No Villain.
No Villain is a superb show. See it while you can!
Playwright: Arthur Miller
Director: Sean Turner
Producer: Samuel Julyan
Booking until: 9th January 2016
Box Office: 0844 412 4307
Booking Link: http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/no-villain.html