Theatre

Why Arthur Miller is trending in theatre right now

This season there are five Arthur Miller revivals at major London theatres - so what is it about 2019 that makes the mid-century playwright so relevant? Amy Wakeman investigates...

Unless you’re Harold Pinter, it’s rare for a playwright’s work to be shown consistently one after the other. But this spring, there are five Arthur Miller plays showing across London, in theatres including the Old Vic, Wyndham’s Theatre and The Yard. Of course, life, death and human purpose are eternal themes that play out in every Miller work. But what is it about our tense and troubled times that makes him such a pertinent playwright?

‘What is it about our troubled times that makes him such a pertinent playwright?’

‘Miller’s work is always sought after by actors and directors,’ argues Jonathan Church, director of The Price, which has transferred from the Theatre Royal Bath to London’s Wyndham Theatre after a successful first season. ‘There’s something extraordinary about his ability to write both the specific and the general, too. All his plays are linked to individuals, and he knows people so well. He has great insight into how human beings operate.’

The Crucible at The Yard

For Church, this insight means plays like The Price, which Miller wrote in 1968, are as relevant today as they were 50 years ago. The play is all about how life-changing personal decisions culminate in creating your identity. ‘In our more complicated, less simple world, with the war a far distant memory, there’s a striving for national identity in Britain and America. For me, what’s happening in Britain with Brexit and what’s happening in America with Trump is all about a search for identity.’

Abhin Galeya, the actor who stars in Rachel Chavkin’s production of The American Clock at The Old Vic, agrees. ‘Miller’s plays are all about human drama. They talk about the world we live in, and the human struggle. Right now it’s so relevant with everything that’s happening around the world. People are at a pivotal point, on the cusp of revolution. Also, we’re working harder and harder nowadays, with the idea that money will make us happy. But Miller consistently challenges that in his plays.’

This feeling of being at a moment of crisis is echoed by Jay Miller, artistic director at The Yard (and no relation). The Crucible, one of Miller’s most widely studied and performed plays, was an unusual choice for The Yard. Jay Miller established the space in 2011 with the aim of creating ‘radical’ theatre. So why put on a play that was written in 1953? ‘It felt right to me, in the context of questioning who we are, to pick a play that’s a cornerstone of theatre culture, which speaks of what happens when a contemporary democracy goes wrong,’ says Miller. ‘I’ve never lived through a time when people have felt so distant from one another. People are scared to ask what each others political beliefs are. In this moment of disagreement, it felt right.’

The American Clock at The Old Vic

Miller felt the theatricality inherent to The Crucible also felt relevant in this age of inflammatory rhetoric and politics played out on social media. ‘When screens create more distance between us, I’ve never felt theatre to be more vital. The production will celebrate that theatricality, and the theatricality of the hysteria in The Crucible. I hope to try and resonate the drama that’s created with every tweet of Trump’s.’

‘People are at a pivotal point, on the cusp of revolution’

Galeya, Church and Miller all agree on one thing: they all think that their productions will make people stop and reflect.

‘I hope it’ll make audiences look just a little bit at how they operate in the world,’ says Church. ‘In terms of their relationships with people, family, money, with the country they live in. But that’s Miller’s gift, making the personal political and vice versa.

The American Clock, 4 February-30 March, oldvictheatre.com

The Price, 5 February-27 April, delfontmackintosh.co.uk

The Crucible, 27 March-11 May, theyardtheatre.co.uk

All My Sons, 13 April-8 June, oldvictheatre.com

Death of a Salesman, 1 May-29 June, youngvic.org