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Review: The Man Who Had All The Luck @ King’s Head Theatre

As almost every review of any production of The Man Who Had All The Luck explains, it is not one of Miller’s best known plays and, as the vast majority of them go on to say, there are very good reasons for this.

Make no mistake, it is brimming with ideas, stuffed with witty, gritty dialogue, and full of that quintessential Miller gravitas but compared to his later work, it is a half-formed thing. It lacks the subtle, piercing revelations that make his other plays so damn impactful. Set against The Crucible or All My Sons, The Man Who Had All The Luck feels slightly too contrived, slightly too engineered, to be truly great.

None of which is to say that End Of Moving Walkway’s production at Islington’s King’s Head Theatre is anything but a success. Staged in the round (a move that was surely inspired by the Young Vic’s recent production of A View From The Bridge with Mark Strong), it is a well-acted, well-directed piece that engages throughout. Like a man building a snowman from slush, however, it just cannot refine Miller’s script to the point of perfection (a phrase about polishing and faecal matter would be a fitting, if preposterously exaggerated metaphor).

Jamie Chandler is David, a likeable self-taught mechanic who is, quite simply, incredibly lucky. He cannot marry his girlfriend Hester (Chloe Walshe) for lack of her fearsome father’s approval; the father is mown down and killed in an automobile accident. He cannot fix an expensive motor; a European car expert just happens to walk into his shop who can help. He and Hester struggle to have a child; she becomes miraculously pregnant unexpectedly.

As all around him falter and fail and David breezes through life – like a jellyfish floating in warm water, is the recurring analogy – he begins to question the nature of his fortune, and the unpredictability of life. “It’s a madhouse!” he cries, frustrated and confused by the easy comfort of his life, whilst others – his brother, his father, his friends – all see their cherished dreams wither and die before them.

Miller is typically contemplative throughout. As each new piece of luck raises the stakes even further, the tension and the desperation with which David searches for answers increase. Classic Miller themes – the American dream, the relationship between father and son, the control a man has over his own life – rear their heads with elegance, but the play’s central question – does a man make his own luck? – feels somewhat cumbersomely explored by a repetitive and predictable plot.

But Chandler is laudably believable as David, a fundamentally good man disenfranchised by circumstance, as is Walshe as Hester. Keith Hill is enjoyable as David’s blustering father and Alex Warner is commendably earnest as European mechanic Gus (the scene in which he and David first meet over a dismantled car is arguably the production’s strongest). In truth, the majority of the cast are thoroughly proficient. Special mention must go to Peter Dineen, who captures one character – a shuffling, melodramatic, old-timer – remarkably well; it’s just unfortunate that he is supposed to be playing several different ones.

This is not Miller at his jaw-dropping best. The Man Who Had All The Luck has kernels of his characteristically arresting themes and a suitably profound question at its heart, but it is unrefined and lacks the surety and grace of other Miller plays. End Of Moving Walkway get a lot of mileage out of it, however, and the result is a classy production of a somewhat flawed play.

3/5

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