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Incident at Vichy review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘a timely, focused revival’

This one-acter, written quickly by Arthur Miller in 1964 when the ANTA Washington Square Theater in New York City needed another play to follow After the Fall, was inspired by true events.

A Jewish man’s life was saved by a gentile stranger who handed him his own papers during a Nazi inspection in Vichy France. Incident at Vichy is less a moving celebration of humane sacrifice, however, than a complex examination of degrees of complicity in evil. The noble gesture seems tacked on at the end.

A line of men, representative of different types, among them an artist, a Communist electrician, an aristocrat and a doctor, await their checks – of papers and penises (for tell-tale circumcision). Miller was writing against the background of the Eichmann trial and, although Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” is not quoted, the idea hangs in the air. Needless to say, rounding up those who are different, blaming an influx of strangers for social problems, seems bang up to date – as it probably always has. Yet this is its first professional London outing in 50 years.

Director Phil Willmott  argues that Miller was not aiming for “easy” catharsis as in Willy Loman’s death or John Proctor’s defiance. There is strength in this uncompromising approach and a disturbing sense of limbo in Georgia de Grey’s glaring white set, with its bare walls and simple integrated bench, but dramatic argument is best underscored by emotion.

Lawrence Boothman as the hysterical painter, Gethin Alderman as Leduc, the flawed doctor, and Daniel Dowling as a frightened boy contribute to this, although Edward Killingback could be more loftily superior as the prince. But it is Jeremy Gagan as the Old Jew, solemnly clutching his feather pillow, who is the wordless moral and emotional centre of the piece.

Verdict
Timely, focused revival of a rarely performed one-act Arthur Miller

Production Information

Production
Incident at Vichy
Venue
Finborough Theatre
City
London
Starts
March 28, 2017
Ends
April 22, 2017
Press night
March 30, 2017
Authors
Arthur Miller
Director
Phil Willmott
Set
Georgia de Grey
Lighting
Robbie Butler
Sound
Theo Holloway
Costume
Penn O’Gara
Technical
Andy McDonald (lighting technician)
Stage manager
Helen Burdett, Bethany Pratt
Production manager
Toby Burbidge
Cast includes
Gethin Alderman, Edward Killingback, Lawrence Boothman, P K Taylor, Henry Wyrley-Birch, Brendan O’Rourke, Jeremy Gagan, Daniel Dowling
Producer
Anita Creed Productions for the Phil Willmott Company
Running time
1hr 30mins