A play about the United States of America sliding into oblivion may feel particularly prescient in our current climate. Indeed, one cannot help but feel this is the main reason the Old Vic theatre has decided to put on this new production of American Clock. With constant emphasis on what American values are, what it means to believe in America as a country, and how things might get better (Millers answer seems to be a vague nod to communism without any real substance behind it), the play seems to be attempting to address the issues of America today. The scene in which new graduates discuss whether they will ever be able to use the skills they have acquired during their degree may cut a little close to the bone for some readers of this magazine.
However, in general, the play did not feel that relevant to today’s politics. The strife of mid-western farmers, metropolitan bankers and small town sheriffs seems far removed, and in some ways idyllic, compared to the government shutdown, NFL protests and riots of today’s America. The play could have been more applicable to these issues if it followed individual characters’ relationships with America more closely; the constant shifting of characters and actors from one scene to the next created a ramshackled over-arching plot. Whilst this disjointed dream-like structure certainly dragged the audience into the confusion of "The Great Depression", it also made it difficult to find an emotional heart within the play and the audience was left with many characters no more than sketched – something that seems absurd in a three-hour play!
If you can overlook the dated feel of Miller’s work, the production of the play is outstanding. The swing piano playing throughout, which became more and more erratic as the characters own fates fell, added theatrical flare. The jaunty music counteracted the news of lynchings and suicides in a way that served to heighten the tension of the play. The acting also deserves a strong commendation with actors who held the stage and were able to believably pull off three characters each. Many of the parts were doubled up with three actors on stage all playing the same role in different ways; whilst this effect could have been jarring, it was deftly handled, and, instead, brought you closer to the characters' inner emotional turmoil. The musical numbers where also impressive and included a fantastic tap dancing banker.
This play deserves to be commended for its updating of an historic play to attract a modern audience, with the addition of musical-esque lighting and dance numbers. However, the play ultimately does not seem to live up to its potential as an excavation of the modern American psyche.
Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor
The American Clock
At the Old Vic Theatre until the 30th of March
The Cut, Lambeth, London SE1 8NB