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It’s taken a long time for Arthur Miller’s long-suppressed play The Hook to reach the stage. PETER FROST reckons it’s been well worth the wait.

The Hook
Royal and Derngate Theatre,
Northampton/Touring
*****

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AS A young man Arthur Miller loved the colour and political excitement of the Brooklyn waterfront. It was there, working nights in the Brooklyn navy yards and writing plays by day, that he honed both his communist politics and the writing skills and power of observation that would make him a legend.

Derived from that experience, The Hook is set amid the political tensions of a 1950s US fixated by red-baiting and witch-hunts. It was long suppressed by the FBI and this is in fact its world premiere, which celebrates the centenary of Miller’s birth in 1915.

Much of the Brooklyn waterfront’s colour and excitement comes alive in this production. That’s due in no small part to a large cast of local people from many backgrounds who, with Patrick Connellan’s dramatic set and Tom Mills’s atmospheric soundscape, fill the stage with a bustling melting pot of life against which the raw confrontations of the New York waterfront are acted out.

Miller’s hero Marty Ferrara (Jamie Sives) is a longshoreman who challenges the criminal gangs on the waterfront and takes a heroic stand against the mobsters who run the docks.

The character is based on Pete Panto, a militant who a very young Miller worked with and admired in his communist cell in the docks. Panto was kidnapped and murdered by the mafia in their battle to corrupt and control waterfront labour unions.

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The play tells the story of a close-knit working class community up against a world of crime and political corruption, with the protagonist’s struggle — against mounting unemployment, wage cuts, zero-hours contracts and the scapegoating of immigrants — bearing an uncanny resemblance to those being waged in Britain some 60 years later.

Getting The Hook to the stage has taken a long time, with director James Dacre taking six years to research Miller’s original scripts. He and writer Ron Hutchinson adapted what the playwright described as a screenplay but both insist that “every word of the play is Miller’s.”

At the peak of his creativity and political acumen, what the production demonstrates is that Miller still has the power to surprise.

The Hook is not just a must-see for anyone with an interest in the playwright, left-wing theatre or red-baiting politics in the US.

It’s also an enormously thought-provoking and stimulating evening out, with sharply acute lessons for our own times.

Runs at Royal and Derngate theatre until June 27, box office: royalandderngate.co.uk, then at the Everyman and Playhouse theatre, Liverpool, from July 1-25, box office: everymanplayhouse.com

This review first appeared in the Morning Star 11 June 2015

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