On first impressions, this lesser-known Arthur Miller play from 1993 bears all the hallmarks of the dramatist’s greatest works. Centring on two men visiting their wives in a New England psychiatric hospital, it presents a quartet of everyday people suffering the consequences of life not turning out quite as planned and thrums with quiet rage over America’s materialistic obsessions.
But it is a quieter, more reflective piece, lacking the dramatic bells and whistles of Miller’s earlier, angrier plays. As such, this subtly staged, stripped back Octagon-supported University of Bolton production, presented in Bolton Library’s temporarily adapted lecture room, suits it perfectly.
Played out on Ciaran Bagnall’s simple but effective set, and with lighting and sound cues kept to a minimum, the focus is instead kept on characters who love each other but are constantly walking the tightrope of being fearful of saying the wrong thing.
Director David Thacker knows his way around an Arthur Miller, having collaborated with the dramatist over a 10-year period at the Young Vic, including directing this play’s British premiere. His precisely executed, fuss-free direction shows off Miller’s skill with the ebb and flow of seemingly innocuous conversation to a tee.
This minimalist approach also allows the cast to shine, with Juliet Aubrey standing out with an emotionally raw, seductively skittish performance as Patricia, who can’t hide her disappointment over her husband’s lack of ambition. Her exchanges with David Ricardo-Pearce as the beleaguered Leroy capture the push and pull of conflicted emotions that comes from dealing with a loved one in mental distress.