THE LAST YANKEE
Young Vic Theatre, London SE1
Opened 26 January, 1993

After the near-farrago of The Ride Down Mt Morgan, Arthur Miller returns to his classic vein: the crises of an individual serving as metaphor for/commentary on the state of the national soul. Indeed, this 80-minute piece could almost have originated at any time in the last 30 or 40 years; its tight, spare elegance is distinctively Millerian, its wan humour integrated with the major themes rather than clashing discordantly as in Mt Morgan.

The Yankee of the title is Leroy Hamilton, descended from one of America's founding fathers but content to be a jobbing carpenter, whose optimism is ingrained despite being sorely tried, not least by his wife's clinical depression. In an institution waiting-room he tries (and fails) not to be goaded by the crass dollar-fixated condescension of John Frick, whose wife is also resident there; Leroy and wife Pattie slowly, painfully attempt to beat a way forward, as Pattie taps long-forgotten resources to give Mrs Frick the support her husband is too paralysed to supply.

Peter Davison's Leroy keeps the character's faults welcomely to the fore to dispel notions of saintliness, and ZoŽ Wanamaker as Pattie movingly depicts a depressive's struggle to attain the ordinary. The final moments, in which Mrs Frick tap-dances in top hat and shorts to her husband's stunted rendition of "Swanee River", is the very antithesis of the saccharin so many lesser writers would make of it.

Miller's skill (beautifully, faithfully attested to by David Thacker's direction in his Young Vic swansong) is to tap into general concerns by writing everyman situations not large, but clear; this play is a brief, perhaps minor but nonetheless object example of what makes him so great.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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