Tuesday, June 23, 2015

'The Hook' by Arthur Miller, adapted for the stage by Ron Hutchinson

23 June 2015

Arthur Miller was born in the Red Hook district of New York City in 1915. His centenary is being celebrated with some great new productions of his best plays: the Young Vic production of 'A View From The Bridge' directed by Ivo van Hove and starring Mark Strong (reviewed here in April 2015), and the Royal Shakespeare Company production of 'Death of a Salesman, directed by Greg Doran and starring Anthony Sher (also reviewed here in April 2015), are two of the best stage plays I've seen this year. Last night we were at the Royal Theatre in Northampton to see the world premiere production of 'The Hook' – a screenplay Arthur Miller wrote in 1951 for an Elia Kazan film that was never made, which has now been adapted for the stage by Ron Hutchinson. In the 1950s, the film studio felt that Miller's script, about exploited dock workers standing up to corrupt union leaders, was too incendiary for an America embroiled in the House Un-American Activities Committee's anti-communist hearings. James Dacre's production for the Northampton Royal & Derngate and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse recreates the bustling mayhem of the Red Hook dockyards on stage. Whereas 'A View From The Bridge' shows dock workers from the same district solely in a domestic setting, 'The Hook' was clearly intended to reveal the docks themselves on screen. Patrick Connellan's stunning set (with lighting by Charles Balfour) uses a framework of stairs and ramps and ingenious video projection to create a realistic picture of this dangerous workplace. The Royal & Derngate's policy of using a 'community ensemble' of local amateur actors alongside the professional cast was used effectively to cram 26 actors onto the small stage of the Royal Theatre, emphasising the crowded chaos of the dockyards. There were other signs that this had started life as a screenplay – short scenes switching locations abruptly - but Ron Hutchinson's adaptation was very effective. 'The Hook' is not among Miller's best works – it's a little too didactic and quite unrelentingly grim. But this was a fascinating and impressive production.

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