No Villain at Trafalgar Studios
Arthur Miller is arguably the American playwright of the mid-20th Century and, like all the best writers, he transcends the campus and the syllabus reading list. But his earliest work, written to win a $250 play writing prize in order that he could return to his studies at the University of Michigan, had until last year never been performed.
No Villain was rediscovered by theatre director Sean Turner in 2015 and received its world première at the Old Red Lion Theatre, here in our very own city of London. It has now transferred to Trafalgar Studios’ lushly intimate Studio 2 – an early sign of its growing reputation. The juvenilia of our favourite authors can sometimes be horrible to watch, a sure indication that they are not Gods, but merely human, the harsh realisation that it was a lot of hard work that found them acclaim, alongside whatever natural talent they possessed. If this is the case, then Miller was a rare talent, because as a student play, allegedly written in just six days, it is still a triumph worthy of him.
Telling the story of the Simons, an immigrant family with their own garment business who are staring down a workers’ strike that threatens to put them out of business, No Villain already displays the hallmarks of Miller’s later works. Like his adult masterpieces years, the play displays his penchant for strong dialogue (particularly the vernacular of his hometown), gripping storytelling, and his fascination with how ordinary people fight to retain their identity in a world that forces them to do terrible things. Granted, it is a little sloppy in comparison, but the plot strides along briskly, with a denouement that is as epic and powerful as The Crucible or A View from the Bridge.
Partly autobiographical, the story is also a discourse on Marxism, and the Communist feeling that was sweeping the world in the 1930s. Turner gets this immediately, and puts it at the heart of the production without letting the play become consumed by it. The staging is fantastic; the intimacy lends itself well to scenes of the family holed up in their sitting room, or the men of the Simons family in their garment workshop, and the sets are superb.
It’s worth going to see multiple times – you’re guaranteed to appreciate something new in it with multiple watches. An early sign of Miller’s talent, No Villain is a great slice of theatre, skilfully written and produced.
No Villain is on at Trafalgar Studios from 20th June until 23rd July 2016. Book your tickets here.