Running time 2hours with 15 minute intermission
It was with a sense of privilege that I watched and listened to this double bill of the great playwright. Written in 1986, when supposedly no longer at the height of Miller’s powers, traps await any producer of this work. In the event, in the transfer to today, the different styles of writing, acting and production left a confused, half cooked feel to the first play in the double bill.
Opening the evening’s fare is ‘I Can’t Remember Anything’. Here, the bluff, turgid, naturalistic Leo of Julian Bird, and the dated, theatrically melodramatic style (palm to forehead and all) of Deborah Javor’s oddly similarly named Leonora, leave one with an unsatisfied sense of artificiality all round. The play depicts the regular ‘dinner’ that the two apparent friends share. I personally can’t bear watching an actress pretending to eat, and managing one small bite at what looked like fried egg white. And a sturdy man apparently satisfied with a couple of forkfulls of lettuce. This is a metaphor for the whole play, unfortunately.
Apparently an examination of a fading memory, plus alcohol (she) and a dropping off of professional skills (he), it was, in the end, none of this, merely a superficial recounting of the playwright’s words, with not a thought for any great depth. Arthur Miller did not become one of the giants of 20th century American drama by turning out shallow material. As a result, the supposed climax and highlight, the dance scene at the end, exemplified this. What could have been exquisite nostalgia was simply embarrassing.
A different experience awaits in the second half, with ‘Clara’. In an utterly extraordinary performance, Julian Bird, as Albert Kroll, plumbs the complexity and depths pf post traumatic stress and shock. These terms may not have been currency in 1986, but Arthur Miller has understood and exposed their truth, even if the police don’t get it. Kroll’s daughter has been murdered, and his inability to recall some vital facts causes the investigating copper, Detective Fine much frustration. No matter how impassioned and forceful his questioning, in Anthony Taylor’s performance of power and believability, the void between the men remains. The passage of time, the enemy of any investigation, drives the conflict, caused by Kroll’s confusion and curious self accusation.
Periodically in all this, flashes of memory hit Kroll, culminating in a glorious passage of Arthur Miller brilliance, Julian Bird triumphantly accepting this gift, rounding off his tour de force performance and a superbly realised piece of drama.
‘Clara’ earned the stars in this evenings offering. The first half was barely worth 2 stars, but the reward was in seeing a rarely performed, intriguing Arthur Miller creation.