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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Man Who Had All The Luck
Donmar Warehouse Theatre Spring 2008

Arthur Miller's first play lasted only four nights on Broadway in 1944. One can only guess that it was a much weaker production than this crackling one from director Sean Holmes, which engages your emotions and your mind from start to finish.

Like it says on the label, Miller's central character seems bizarrely lucky. His girlfriend's father, who stood between them, is killed in a freak accident. He's a garage mechanic faced with fixing a rich man's car, and a passing stranger helps him and lets him take all the credit, leading to a prosperous contract. His childless boss gives him the business just as the state builds a major highway right past his station.

Everything he touches turns to gold, while those around him seem cursed. His brother, raised to be the star of the family, loses his chance to be a major league baseball player. A friendly competitor goes bust and winds up working for him. His former boss sinks into alcoholic despair.

Rather than enjoying his fortune, the lucky man lives in fear of his luck changing, almost praying for a catastrophe that will somehow even the score. He has to learn painfully that some of his fortune is the product of his own virtues and efforts - and some of the others' misfortunes the result of their errors and weaknesses - and that the part that is luck is to be welcomed without guilt.

Maybe a wartime audience wasn't in the mood for such optimism, or maybe the original production just failed to bring it to life. But this time around you believe in the characters and feel for them, and you wait eagerly for Miller to work out the central mystery.

Andrew Buchan makes the lucky man's journey through happiness, bewilderment, guilt, fear and acceptance moving and real. Michelle Terry as his wife, Shaun Dingwall as a loyal friend, Felix Scott as his unfortunate brother, and the entire cast keep the play anchored in a solid psychological reality, a tribute to director Holmes' guidance.

Is this a great play, on the level of Death of a Salesman? Probably not. It has some of the structural awkwardness of a beginning dramatist.

We are told things about the hero's mental and emotional state that we aren't actually shown, and a late scene has two secondary characters spell out the meanings a bit too explicitly for modern tastes. (Come to think of it, that happens at the end of Death of a Salesman too.)

But I admire it more than, say, All My Sons, and would certainly rank it high among Miller's plays and as high as the second-level plays of Williams or O'Neill - that is to say, better than just about anyone else.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Man Who Had All The Luck - Donmar 2008