The Man Who Had All the Luck - O lucky man
Director John Dove talks to Steve Cramer about sports, economics and great stories as he prepares to revive an early Arthur Miller play for the Lyceum
Arthur Miller took perhaps the hardest knock to his reputation early on in his career, in 1944 when his Broadway debut, The Man Who Had All the Luck opened and closed within a week to empty houses and much derision from the critics. His first major play was henceforth largely ignored for decades. It has only really been revived over the last decade or so with any success, yet its reputation continues to grow after a production at London’s Donmar Warehouse in April of this year.
Still, its story of David, the fortuitous fellow of the title, whose success in life sits in stark contrast to those around him is still treated with suspicion by audiences. In the play, David witnesses his brother, much tipped as a major league baseball player in his youth, fail at the crucial visit of a talent scout. His life then moves into a downward spiral, along with that of his father, while David, who continues on a mercurial course becomes increasingly guilty, beset with a kind of debilitating superstition about his achievements.
Still a bit worried? John Dove assures you that your concerns are unfounded. He should know, as Dove has directed two of the most successful revivals of Miller in Scotland of recent times. Productions of both Death of a Salesman and All My Sons have been greeted with both critical and audience acclaim over the last three years, and this distinguished practitioner is intent on a hat trick.
‘It’s obvious when you read the work that this is a young writer – he was about 22 when he wrote it, but what’s so striking is the sureness of touch he shows here,’ says Dove. ‘You can make comparisons to other, later work if you like; that dynamic about a father and two sons is like Death of a Salesman, of course, but I try to put those other plays from my mind. This is a terrific play in its own right. I mean the story it tells alone is so strong.’
The play has a contemporary touch in its examination of sport in the story of David’s sibling, as Dove points out. ‘If you look at really talented sportsmen you’ll see certain qualities. The people who select players for test matches don’t just look at ability, the players need to be able to handle the verbals too. You can be as gifted as you like, but when you look at people like Lewis Hamilton, Wayne Rooney or Shane Warne you also see an ability to cope with that kind of pressure. When this young man doesn’t quite adjust, he’s left with no options: he’s pumping gas from then on, and his father too gives up.’
This leads, as well, Dove contends, to a particularly timely theme. ‘You have to remember that this play is set during the great depression. At times like that people either specialise, as the brother has, or diversify, as David does. I think the play couldn’t be more topical in that way – what it talks about might have seemed so much less relevant only a year ago, but at this time, when people’s certainties, their sureness of foot are undermined by the economic situation, we could all fall into these character’s situations.’
The Man Who Had All the Luck, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 16 Jan–Sat 14 Feb.