Staging the world premiere of The Hook by legendary playwright Arthur Miller is a considerable coup for Northampton’s Royal & Derngate.
As director James Dacre, notes in the programme, the story behind the production of the play deserves a screenplay of its own.
The Hook was originally a ‘play for the screen’ script written by Miller at the height of McCarthyism in 1951 that was suppressed by the FBI due to fears it would encourage communism.
Now 60 years later, Dacre has created a transcript of the play by collating copies of different typewritten versions of the script, some of which were accompanied with handwritten notes.
The finished work, currently being performed at Royal & Derngate, has been put together by playwright Ron Hutchinson, staying true to Miller’s language and dialogue structure.
The Hook is set in the New York docks in 1951, a time that was the ‘golden era’ for longshoreman, despite the work being dangerous, hard and irregular.
With all the characters speaking with a strong American accent, it took a few scenes for the ear to attune to the rhythm of the dialogue.
The main character of Marty Ferrara (Jamie Sives), was inspired by dockworker Peter Panto, who led a campaign against the Mafia-links in the union leadership in the 1930s.
Sives puts in a fist-pumping, brooding, Marlon Brando-esque performance in which he struggles to keep his temper with the injustice of the workers’ situation.
The moody, murky atmosphere of the play is also accentuated by the brilliant set design, which features curved wooden walls and a high glass ceiling that gives the feel of the workers being stuck in the bowels of a ship.
It is through Ferrara’s personal story the audience learns of the disastrous consequences for a dockworker losing their ‘work book’ and some of the most powerful scenes depict the emasculating effects of not being able to provide money for his family.
Although her character, along with a few of the other men, is not fully fleshed out Susie Trayling does pour plenty of emotion into the powerless, permanently worried, wife of Marty.
Despite the play being written more than 60 years ago, the themes it explores, including the corruption amongst the rich and powerful, still seem relevant today with the recent allegations against FIFA officials.
However, the tone of the play is not quite consistent at times, with Alessi’s behaviour when he is rigging the president’s vote appearing more pantomime villain than menacing gangster.
At times it also feels as if the play has too many protagonists and too much action to fit into the two hours so the audience never really gets a chance to fully engage and empathise with Marty’s fight for democracy in the union.
The ending of the play also feels like a slight anti-climax, lacking any big emotional punch.
James Dacre has undoubtedly done a great job in the staging of Miller’s play and is aided by a talented cast, expertly led by Jamie Sives.
But leaving the theatre, I couldn’t help thinking that, contrary to its title, The Hook was not quite gripping enough to be considered at the same quality level as other recent Made in Northampton productions.
The Hook is being performed at The Royal until June 27. To book tickets go to www.royalandderngate.co.uk