Features

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/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
Visit/513325/an-offbeat-take-on-economics
Films

An offbeat take on economics

Review: This Giant Beast That is the Global EconomyA new TV series outfreaks Freakonomics.
20 Aug 2019

Most Popular

Visit/investments/property/house-prices/600840/the-biggest-risk-facing-the-uk-housing-market-right-now
House prices

The biggest risk facing the UK housing market right now

For house prices to stagnate or even fall would be healthy for the property market, says John Stepek. But there is a distinct danger that isn't going …
17 Feb 2020
Visit/economy/600838/money-minute-monday-17-february-good-news-ahead-for-the-uk-economy
Economy

Money Minute Monday 17 February: good news ahead for the UK economy?

Today's Money Minute looks to a week in which we get the latest employment and inflation numbers, plus retail figures for January and a slew of eurozo…
17 Feb 2020
Visit/economy/uk-economy/600824/how-the-bbc-can-survive-the-end-of-the-tv-licence
UK Economy

How the BBC can survive the end of the TV licence

The TV licence that funds the BBC is looking way past its sell-by date, says Matthew Lynn. Here's how it could survive without it
16 Feb 2020
Visit/investments/stockmarkets/european-stockmarkets/600725/is-2020-the-year-for-european-small-cap
Sponsored

Is 2020 the year for European small-cap stocks?

SPONSORED CONTENT - Ollie Beckett, manager of the TR European Growth Trust, on why he believes European small-cap stocks are performing well.
12 Feb 2019