No Villain at the Old Red Lion Theatre
On this, the centenary of playwright Arthur Miller’s birth (his plays having been treated to re-stagings the world over) we close the year with his very first and least known work. Miller wrote No Villain while at college, winning the Avery Hopwood playwriting prize. It was the first bud of an extraordinary literary career, yet it has never been produced until now.
Set in New York City in the 1930s at the time of large-scale union strikes, No Villain introduces us to the Simon family. Abe is a clothing factory proprietor angrily bewildered by the strikes and the impact on his business. His eldest son returns from university a communist, while his youngest, a rock to his family and a helper in the business, shows increasing sympathy for the unions. As each character strives to live within his own moral parameters, ideas begin to clash: family/society, materialism/morality and capitalism/communism.
By his own admission, this is Miller’s most autobiographical work. His father was a women’s clothing manufacturer who was hit hard after the Great Depression and stripped of his wealth. Miller himself was a communist, famously hauled in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee to answer for his leftist beliefs.
Director Sean Turner has treated this long-lost script with all the care it deserves; the naturalistic set, well assembled cast and intimate staging allow the play’s themes to tussle at the forefront. The Old Red Lion Theatre, with its low roof and 60-seat capacity, provides both intimacy and claustrophobia in turn: the front row is often nose-to-navel with the actors; during a funeral scene, the smell of incense pervades.
George Turvey in the role of youngest brother Ben is highly believable. His affable and controlled nature jars against that of David Bromley’s Abe (also sturdily portrayed), a man driven to desperation as his long-held belief in hard work and family values is undermined.
“When they study long enough they get so smart they don’t have to work. Maybe if I get principles even I won’t have to work,” he spits, during a scene at the Simon and Son cloaks factory as the strikes rage outside.
When Abe himself is left high and dry by the bank, unsympathetic to his troubles, we see that the very system he defends does not protect him.
Miller fans hungry for new work will be grateful to Turner for hunting down and bringing to life No Villain. While the tension and explosiveness of later scripts like Death of a Salesman and A View from the Bridge are not fully achieved here, this is a rich and revealing play peopled with the loveable but ill-fated characters Miller was so very good at creating.
Photo: Cameron Harle
No Villain is on at the Old Red Lion Theatre from 8th December 2015 until 9th January 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for No Villain here: