Play of the week: The American Clock

This a revival of a lesser-known play by the American playwright Arthur Miller examines what happens when the music stops, and the financial boom turns to bust.

934_MW_P39_Reviews_Top

The American Clock

By Arthur Miller

At the Old Vic until 30 March

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

Since the financial crisis of a decade ago, America has had one of the longest economic expansions and bull markets in history, but what will happen when the music stops? The American Clock, currently running at London's Old Vic, is a revival of a lesser-known play by the American playwright Arthur Miller.

In it, Miller provides a series of vignettes showing how the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and the subsequent Great Depression, upended American society. The cast collectively play a huge number of characters, but the main focus is on the businessman Arthur Robertson (Clarke Peters), one of the first to predict the crash, and the Baum family.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Broken by the crash

After the crash, all this gradually starts to disappear. First, the jewellery is pawned and the chauffeur is given his marching orders. Then the family is forced to move to Brooklyn and move in with the in-laws. Although savvy enough to sell his stocks and move into gold, Robertson watches as his contemporaries commit suicide and driftinto penury.

One of the big themes of the play is the extent to which the Depression forced people to abandon their dreams and curtail their ambitions.Moe Baum goes from thrusting businessman to broken salesman; his son Lee isforced to postpone college in order to support the family. Even when Lee finally graduates, the lack of jobs inhis chosen field means he is forced to go on welfare, and undergo the humiliation of pretending to be estranged from his father in order to be eligible for a make-work government job. One of Lee's friends is forced to marry his landlady's daughter in order to prevent his family being thrown out on the street.

Miller takes some liberties with the historical record.The speculator Jesse Livermore appears in the play, for example, but in real life he made a fortune from the Wall Street crash, rather than losing it as in the play (though he eventually lost the fortune he made in those years). However, many of the most outrageous details, such as the people desperate enough to take part in endurance dance contests, or to think seriously about moving to the Soviet Union, are correct.

Perhaps the only major flaw is the sheer length of the play, which lasts for more than three hours (including the interval). The production would have benefited from some judicious pruning by the director,Rachel Chavkin. Nevertheless, it is still definitely worth seeing in its current form.

Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/spending-it/films/600911/theatre-review-the-visit
Films

Theatre review: The Visit

Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Swiss classic The Visit, transported to 1950s America, poses the question: how much would you kill for?
28 Feb 2020
Visit/519325/six-contrarian-books-for-christmas
Films

Six contrarian books for Christmas

Merryn Somerset Webb picks six of her favourite contrarian books to help you look clever and perhaps win a few arguments over the Christmas dinner tab…
9 Dec 2019
Visit/513323/coming-to-terms-with-anna-sorokin
Films

Coming to terms with Anna Sorokin

My Friend Anna: The true story of the fake heiress of New York CityWilliams is a solid writer who does a good job of explaining how she, and other int…
21 Aug 2019
Visit/513324/book-in-the-news-the-inside-story-of-spains-tumultuous-crisis
Films

Book in the news… the inside story of Spain’s tumultuous crisis

After the Fall Crisis, Recovery and the Making of a New SpainA book that goes beyond politics to offer a deeply sympathetic portrayal of a country.
21 Aug 2019

Most Popular

Visit/investments/property/601081/three-things-matter-for-the-uk-housing-market-now-and
Property

Three things matter for the UK housing market now – and “location” isn’t one of them

The UK housing market is frozen. And when it does eventually thaw out, the traditional factors that drive prices will no longer apply. The day of reck…
1 Apr 2020
Visit/investments/property/601065/what-does-the-coronavirus-crisis-mean-for-uk-house-prices
Property

What does the coronavirus crisis mean for UK house prices?

With the whole country in lockdown, the UK property market is closed for business. John Stepek looks at what that means for UK house prices, housebuil…
27 Mar 2020
Visit/economy/small-business/601073/furlough-what-does-it-mean-and-how-does-it-affect-me
Small business

Furlough: what does it mean and how does it affect me?

Many companies have “furloughed” employees after they have shut down because of the coronavirus. But what does furlough mean and how does the scheme w…
30 Mar 2020
Visit/investments/stockmarkets/601068/buy-stocks-for-the-long-term-but-buy-very-carefully
Stockmarkets

Buy stocks for the long term, but buy very carefully

After the wild ride of the last couple of weeks, equities are no longer expensive. But if you do decide to buy, be very, very careful indeed, says Mer…
30 Mar 2020