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Monday 24 June 2019

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The Hook, Royal and Derngate Northampton, review: 'a curiosity'

This is not the big coup we had hoped for in Miller's centenary year, says Dominic Cavendish

3 out of 5 stars
Jamie Sives as Marty in The Hook
A Brando-esque charisma: Jamie Sives (centre) as Marty in The Hook 

Five years before A View from the Bridge (1955), Arthur Miller wrote The Hook, a screenplay about the tough, treacherous lives of the longshoremen toiling by the Hudson in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Red Hook.

It inhabits exactly the same world as that inhabited by Eddie Carbone (in the later play), albeit with a different slant, focusing on the way local union bosses lined their own pockets and failed to defend the workers from the dockyard companies’ unreasonable demands and bad practices. At the centre of what Miller described as “a play for the screen” stands a gutsy 32-year-old stevedore called Marty Ferrara – who risks his neck to take on the bad guys.

The film never got made. Miller stirred a hornet’s nest of interests, with the studio, the Hollywood unions and even the FBI sticking their oars in until he withdrew the script. As the director James Dacre, who has brought it to the stage in a version by playwright Ron Hutchinson, notes: the back-story “deserves a screenplay of its own”.

Unfortunately, watching this strangely laboured drama, which plods rather than powers along, you’re tempted to conclude that the surrounding context is probably more fascinating than anything contained within the piece itself.

Perhaps being more theatrically radical - and bringing in the biographical material - would have helped. Though the shortish (two hour) evening excels at moody atmospherics, abounding with haze, it doesn’t build a head of steam. The best of Miller’s works stand comparison with the greats - Ibsen or the Greeks; this doesn’t. And the film the proposed director of the project Elia Kazan went on to make, On the Waterfront, visited the same terrain with far more visceral verve.

Arthur Miller in his own words

True, Jamie Sives’s Marty has a brooding, Brando-esque charisma; he chews his vowels and hunches his shoulders with the best of the guys, who take an age to rally behind him against Joe Alessi’s pin-striped, cigar-chomping union hoodlum Louis. Yet the characters are all more a set of well-observed mannerisms than fully realised men. Marty gets his fair share of the script’s blue-collar lyricism (“I says to myself “These ain’t rats, these is little mouses””) but the dialogue skims the surface, rarely sounds significant depths. Overall, this world premiere is a useful deed and a welcome curiosity but it’s not the big coup we had hoped for in the Miller centenary year.

Until June 27. Tickets: 01604 624811; royalandderngate.co.uk; then at the Liverpool Everyman July 1 to 25 (0151 709 4776), everymanplayhouse.com

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