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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The American Clock
Old Vic Theatre Spring 2019

Arthur Miller's American Clock is a sweeping vision of that moment in American history when the system failed, the stock market crashed and millions of people lost everything.

Drawing on Studs Terkel's oral history of the 1930s, Miller gives us suicidal bankers, destitute industrialists, farmers having their property auctioned and men walking door to door begging for work.

A once wealthy man says in bewilderment 'A country can't just die'. A woman says 'I feel like a figure in a dream'. It was a time, in the words of Marx, when 'All that is solid melts into air'.

Brief scenes from the devastation are wrapped around the more extended story of the Baum family, who before the crash had lived in an eleven room apartment, employed a chauffeur and were set to send their son to any university he fancied.

However the episodic nature of the scenes can make this a hard play to deliver to an audience wanting a strong storyline. A production needs to dip into the full bag of theatrical tricks to evoke a mood and to keep the audience engaged.

Unfortunately the director Rachel Chavkin gives very little beyond a tinkling piano along with quick slices of song and dance that add nothing to the drama beyond taking up more time.

To make matters worse she adds to the fragmentary feeling of the presentation and some potential confusion among the audience by having the central story of the Baum family, that might have anchored the show, split among three actors playing each part.

All this also slows the pace, making the three hours running time seem a lot longer.

You will enjoy much of the acting, particularly by the three women who play Rose Baum the mother.

You will remember the scene in which a woman learns her brother killed himself, and another in which a father with tears in his eyes stands in public pretending to denounce his son so that the son can get benefits.

There are many more such scenes that catch the imagination, including the almost surreal glimpse of the President of General Electric handing in his resignation and tap dancing his way off the stage.

But you will still wish the show had been done differently and faster.

Keith McKenna

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Review -  The American Clock - Old Vic Theatre 2019
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