Tag Archives: Rachel Chavkin

“The American Clock” at the Old Vic

Of the current and forthcoming productions of Arthur Miller plays in London, this piece from 1980 may count as the oddest and perhaps the most personal. The play gives an outline of The Great Depression, based on the work of oral historian Studs Terkel. And with much of the action focusing on a young man, similar in age and ambition to Miller in the early 1930s – whose family loses its money just as his did – it’s hard not to see it as an autobiographical fragment. Unfortunately, as a trip into the past it’s too potted. And as analysis of events it’s too pedestrian. That American optimism is relentless is rammed home, but doing so brings monotony. And while the idea of an American political left that challenges corporations might be intriguing, it has clearly been consigned to history. It all makes for a text that’s both slim and slow.

Clare Burt, Golda Rosheuvel and Amber Aga

With an episodic structure and presentation that includes song and dance An American Clock still intrigues and the work of director Rachel Chavkin is strong. Making the lack of plot a virtue, the central family is played in triplicate: there are three sets of once wealthy mothers and struggling fathers, while a trio of sons grow up and start careers. It’s a neat way of showing the universalism of the economic disaster and is staged superbly – the device works to make the large ensemble cast really stand out. Clare Burt and Amber Aga both excel as the mother Rose while Golda Rosheuvel becomes the star by also punctuating scenes with a powerful singing voice. James Garnon has most time in the role of the father, and leaves the biggest impression, while three youngsters performing as the son Lee – Fred Haig, Jyuddah Jaymes and Taheen Modak – all impress. Worried about losing track? Thankfully, Clarke Peters is on board as the show’s narrator to make everything smooth. Few actors could make a story this predictable still entertaining and Peters is, as ever, superb.

Ewan Wardrop

Miller renamed the play a Vaudeville piece after its flop on Broadway. Chavkin embraces this by ensuring her production has variety, fun and also rhythm. There are songs throughout and the choreography from Ann Yee is excellent, not least in taking into account that the cast are not dancers. It’s a good way to inject much needed energy; Ewan Wardrop’s tap-dancing CEO proves a real highlight. The music makes points – a manic lust for money and then panic with the Stock Market crash – while complementing the sketch-like quality of the play itself. With the motif of marathon dancing competitions that runs throughout the play, Chavkin’s vision is clear, akin to a live Reginald Marsh painting, but the scenes themselves amount to little, feeling anecdotal or didactic. It’s Chavkin’s skill to weave them together so skilfully – and it’s easy to see why she is one to watch. Still, this play isn’t one to give time to.

Until 30 March 2019


Photos by Manuel Harlan

“RoosevElvis” at the Royal Court

Brooklyn-based theatre ensemble the Team has collaborated on an exploration of American culture that presents a road trip like no other. Libby King and Kristen Seih play would-be lovers, Ann and Brenda, as well as the iconic Roosevelt and Elvis, who people Ann’s imagination. This is drag at its most radical, making gender politics provocative and fun.

What pieces of work Theodore and Presley are – role models of masculinity – brilliantly rendered by King and Seih. Lots of whacky fun is had at the expense of these male egos: the president playing ‘Whack-a-Mole’ with on-screen buffaloes is just one genius stroke, while Elvis/Ann/Sieth’s (it gets complicated) karate with pizza boxes is great. But these aren’t straw men. The biographical research has been done (I learned a lot) and both figures are presented intelligently.

Anchoring the show is the story of Ann – this is the bit the history is for – a meatpacking worker, unhappy with her sexuality, who dreams of visiting Graceland. An endearing character, her private conversation with Elvis makes you will her to escape and shows the dangers, alongside the delights, of a powerful imagination.

All theatre is collaborative, of course, but scripts with many authors (there are seven here) can be messy. And RoosevElvis is as crazy as you could wish for, with sets and screens moving around and a couple of rowing machines thrown in. Yet, with Rachel Chavkin directing, the show feels fluid rather than chaotic, and spontaneous despite a reliance on filmed material.

One of many inspirations for RoosevElvis is the movie Thelma and Louise, which leads to a brilliant finale for Teddy and Elvis. But don’t worry – Ann is in the real world and eventually has to face it. Her small step to independence is heart warming, Most importantly, this is a story with emotional impact: theatre where theory meets real people – this Team works.

Until 14 November 2015


Photo by Sue Kessler