The American Clock is one of Arthur Miller’s lesser known plays, but nonetheless, a powerful look at how the Great Depression affected American lives, from hardworking farmers right up to those playing the stock market and those running the corporations of the time. It highlights the harsher realities of capitalism when things go wrong, and how the banks punished the people for the failings of the free market.
The musical play in Miller’s own words is ‘vaudevillian’ in its nature with music and a constant flow of characters switching scenes throughout the show. The story depicts family life throughout the depression, from its start in 1929, right through the 1930s, following the ‘Brooklyn Baum’ family and how they had to cope with events at the time. Interspersed with events are musical numbers and dances from the 30s some of which have been given modern remixes by composer Justin Ellington.
The audience must really focus on the constant flow of ever-changing scenes, which are essentially short snapshots of events taken from different times throughout the 30s. There is a slight lack of continuity between scenes. One aspect of confusion in this production was that the Brooklyn Baum family was depicted by three different sets of actors. Once you realise that, you get to understand little more about the intended timeline of events, however, the decision by Rachel Chavkin to cast three sets of people to play one family adds to the sense of a general melee with the changing scenes.
Whilst it’s a long two hours and fifty-minute show, the musical numbers are enough to lift the spirit of the audience throughout the rapid changing scenes. Some of the individual performances were outstanding, including narration from Sule Rimi who replaced Clarke Peters in this role, Ewan Wardrop as a corporate boss, Golda Rosheuvel as an agitator who stirs up trouble with the people, and Francesca Mills who brought a lot of dynamic energy to the stage playing her seven characters. The songs were fun, and the play included plenty of humour to keep everything cheerful, despite the totally miserable lives led by the characters.
I highly recommend it to fans of vaudeville, musical theatre, and historical events.
- The Old Vic Theatre, 4 Feb – 30 Mar 2019
- Writen by: Arthur Miller
- Director: Rachel Chavkin
- Choreographer: Ann Yee
- Set Design: Chloe Lamford
- Costume: Rosie Elnile
- Composer: Justin Ellington
- Sound: Darron L West
- Lighting: Natasha Chivers
- Casting: Jessica Ronane CDG
- Baylis Associate Director: Julia Locascio
- Associate Choreographer: Temitope Ajose-Cutting
- Booking Link: oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2019/the-american-clock
- Running time: 2 hrs 50 mins (including one 20 min interval)