The American Clock lands at the Old Vic Theatre London
The American Clock turns, fortunes are made and lives are broken. In New York City in 1929, the stock market crashed and everything changed.
‘For them the clock would never strike midnight, the dance and the music could never stop…’
In an American society governed by race and class, we meet the Baum family as they navigate the aftermath of an unprecedented financial crisis. The world pulses with a soundtrack fusing 1920s swing and jazz with a fiercely contemporary sound, creating a backdrop that spans a vast horizon from choking high rises to rural heartlands.
Director Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, Hadestown) presents Arthur Miller’s play about hope, idealism and a nation’s unwavering faith in capitalism. Does The American Clock theme seem current to us now? More than ever probably.
Christian Patterson Arthur Clayton, Dr. Rosman & Judge Bradley
Golda Rosheuvel Rose Baum, Irene & Mrs. Taylor
Abdul Salis Isaac, Frank, Toland & Jesse Livermore
Josie Walker Fanny Margolies
Ewan Wardrop Theodore K. Quinn, Brewster, William Durant & Stanislaus
Written by Arthur Miller
Director Rachel Chavkin
Set Chloe Lamford
Costume Rosie Elnile
Lighting Natasha Chivers
Composer Justin Ellington
Sound Darron L West
Casting Jessica Ronane CDG
Choreographer Ann Yee
Musical Director Jim Henson
Baylis Assistant Director Julia Locascio
The American Clock Critics & Reviews
The American Clock, - review
The American Clock is one of Arthur Miller’s more effortfully serious plays. Dating from 1980, its inspiration was Studs Terkel's book Hard Times, an oral history of the Great Depression. Miller also drew on his own experience of the Thirties, in which a whole generation seemed to be withering.
The result is an episodic piece with a vast number of characters, many of them mere wisps of cliché. The main figures are the upper-class Baum family, whose financial troubles take them from Manhattan sophistication to a bare room in Brooklyn. Rose Baum sells her beloved piano, her husband Moe becomes a salesman, and their son Lee, who has to revise his plans for a college education, flirts with political extremism.
Prescient banker Arthur Robertson (Patrick Poletti) acts as narrator, introducing scenes of desperation, compromise and corruption, in which hunger and the bailiff are rarely far away. This isn’t the only framing device. At the outset, in the present, a clutch of suited businesspeople are attending a private view of photos documenting the desolation that followed the Wall Street Crash of 1929. This is the backdrop to all the action; it suggests uncomfortable historical symmetries.
Director Phil Willmott gets committed performances from a cast of 12. Although some of those taking on multiple parts don’t differentiate between them clearly, there’s good work from Christopher Heyward and David Ellis. Issy van Randwyck is vividly emotive as Rose, and Michael Benz does a nice job of conveying the idealism of Lee.
It’s perhaps overambitious to squeeze such an epic into the Finborough’s tiny playing space. Yet the production manages to be fluent, even if it doesn’t feel gritty.
The real problems lie in the play itself. Miller’s interest in greed and austerity has a certain grim appeal right now. But the panoramic approach isn’t involving, and the writing drips with platitudes, its preachiness significantly weakening the drama.
Arthur Miller’s 1980 drama, here in a 1986 version, is a collage of snapshots of the American experience of the 1929 stock market crash and the decade of Depression that followed. It centres on a typical New York family who undergo representative reversals, with father losing his business, mother forced to pawn her jewellery and son unable to go to college, this ongoing story intercut with the experiences of others, from financiers to farmers.
While the play sometimes has the feel of being written from a checklist (Have to get a hobo in somewhere. Don’t forget a Communist agitator.) and the central family may seem to be undergoing all the plagues of Egypt, a moving and evocative picture of a country and economy on the edge of total collapse does emerge.
Phil Willmott’s production fluidly moves among the many episodes, frequently overlapping action to give a sense of simultaneity, and a cast of twelve double and redouble roles with instant characterisations. Two figures, a successful businessman and the son of the New York family, repeatedly step out of the frame to provide narrative links and commentary, with Patrick Poletti and Michael Benz serving their dual functions with particular effectiveness.
The frailties of capitalism plays out as director Rachel Chavkin revives Arthur Miller's Great Depression drama The American Clock at The Old Vic
If capitalism is king, what happens when it collapses? Arthur Miller's The American Clock takes us to 1929 New York, after the stock market crash has reaped havoc across every subsection of society. As idealist hopes are dashed by industrial decline, jazz and liquor offer relief and temptation in equal measure.
Described by Miller as 'a mural for theatre', the play builds a big picture of the diverse reality of the Great Depression through vignettes and interlocking stories – from a destitute prostitute to a savvy tycoon. Drawing on Hard Times, Stud Terkel's oral history, the play follows the Baum family and sets their personal struggles in the broader context of a nation in crisis.
Rachel Chavkin, the visionary director behind hit musical Hadestown, has a challenge on her hands to translate this bold panorama of a play for The Old Vic stage. The American Clock was a flop when it first opened in 1980 and closed after 12 performances on Broadway. Six years later the British premiere at the National Theatre was a far more successful revised production bouyed by a jazz band and music hall flourishes. But, with only one subsequent UK revival (a 2012 Finborough Theatre production) the show remains one of Miller's less known works. It will be followed by the far more famous All My Sons in an Arthur Miller double-bill at The Old Vic.
Address: 103 The Cut, London, SE1 8NB Capacity: 1067
The Old Vic, originally named the Royal Coburg Theatre, was designed in 1818 by Rudolph Cabanel, where it stands now south-east of Waterloo Station. Its name was later changed to the Royal Victoria Theatre before it was rebuilt and renamed the Royal Victoria Hall in 1880, however at that time it was already nicknamed the “Old Vic” and officially adopted in 1925. Following the Second World War it was restored after air raid damage and became a Grade II listed building.
Historically, in 1824 the Old Vic brought legendary actor Edmund Kean to perform six Shakespeare plays in six nights. In 1963 the Old Vic became the core of the National Theatre of Great Britain, during its formation under Laurence Olivier and continued to hold The National Theatre until the move to South Bank in 1976. The Old Vic has housed acclaimed performances with such celebrated actors as John Gielgud’s Hamlet and Richard II in 1929, Laurence Olivier’s Macbeth and Othello in 1937, Richard Burton’s Hamlet, Judi Dench’s Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, which was privately performed to The Queen in 1957 and Derek Jacobi’s Hamlet in 1977.
More recently in 2003 Kevin Spacey was appointed the first Artistic Director of The Old Vic Theatre Company, a company, which has seen admired performances such as Aladdin with Ian McKellen in 2004, John Osborne’s The Entertainer in 2007, in the same year staging All About My Mother starring Mark Gatiss and Lesley Manville. It has also housed The Bridge Project: The Cheery Orchard & the Winter’s Tale with Simon Russell Beale (2009), Other Desert Cities (2014), Much Ado About Nothing directed by Mark Rylance in 2013, Hedda Gabler starring Sheridan Smith in 2012, which receved four star reviews. and Keven Spacey’s Richard III in 2011. In 2016 The Old Vic stages the world premiere of a new musical, Groundhog Day starring Andy Kar, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin.
The auditorium has three levels - Stalls, Dress Circle and the Lilian Baylis Circle.
Despite the Dress Circle overhanging over Stalls row T, this doesn’t affect the view due to pillars. There is also a staggered rake that will be noticeable from row J to allow better viewing.
The Lilian Baylis Circle is high above the ground and overhangs the Dress Circle at row C meaning row E will miss the top of the stage. It should be noted that the two rows that extend along the sides of the theatre are padded concrete benches with only a rail to lean on. There is also standing seats available at the sides of this circle.
Facilities At Old Vic Theatre
Seat plan: Old Vic Theatre Seat Plan Facilities: Air conditioned Bar Disabled toilets Infrared hearing loop Toilets Wheelchair accessible
Access description: There is a ramp from street level into the foyer and the box office is on your right. Handrails are available on either side of the entrance. From the foyer there are seven steps into the Stalls (without handrails). There are 20+ steps to the Dress Circle and a further 20 steps to the Baylis Circle (with handrails). The theatre is open 1 hour before the performance.
Sound Amplification: Sennheiser infra-red system. A unit is required to be collected from the cloakroom for a £5 deposit (which will be refunded on return of the unit). 30+ units available, including in-ear types and loop units to be used with the T-setting/switch on hearing aids. Some seats are unsuitable for use with the units, please inform the box office at the time of booking if one is likely to be needed. Induction loop is available at the walk-up box office.
Guide Dogs: Guide dogs are allowed into the auditorium. Alternatively, staff can dog-sit. Pleae inform Box Office at time of booking.
Disabled Access: There is a ramp from street level into the foyer. One wheelchair position in Stalls seat N5, a companion can sit in N6. In the case of a transfer, the wheelchair will be stored in the adapted toilet which is next to the access door and close to the wheelchair position. Please discuss any access needs with the box office at the time of booking.
Toilets: There are men’s and women’s off the Pit bar, and 21 steps up from the Lilian Baylis bar.
Disabled Toilets: Adapted WC on the left inside the side entrance
Nearest tube: Waterloo Tube lines: Waterloo & City, Bakerloo, Northern, Jubilee Location: West End Railway station: Waterloo Bus numbers: (Waterloo Road) 1, 4, 26, 59, 68, 139, 168, 171, 172, 176, 188, 521, X68; (Mepham Street) 211, 243, 507 Night bus numbers: (Waterloo Road) 139, 176, 188, N1, N68, N171; (Mepham Street) 243 Car park: Waterloo Station (4mins) Within congestion zone?: Yes Directions from tube: (7mins) Take Mepham Street (100 metres) down to Waterloo Road. Turn right on Waterloo Road, but keep left as the theatre is 100 metres further along on the opposite corner.