Bolton Library Theatre; Tuesday 5th March, 2019
In 1993, after having already worked closely on several different productions over many years, legendary American playwright Arthur Miller sent director David Thacker the script for a new play that he had written and asked him to stage it in England.
Thacker duly obliged and, twenty six years after The Last Yankee made its British debut at the Young Vic, the now Professor David Thacker of Bolton University brings the same showpiece of theatrical Americana to a newly improvised performance space in Bolton for its North-of-England debut.
With the Octagon Theatre currently undergoing heavy refurbishment, the play is being performed in the confines of a converted lecture hall in the basement of the impressively grand Bolton Library & Museum.
The space is relatively small – only a few rows of semi-circular seats crowding around a compact performing area. But this takes nothing away from the emotional turmoil being generated by the cast, if anything, it serves to focus the pain and suffering that the story generates.
The Last Yankee is set entirely in a psychiatric hospital and revolves around the story of two women recovering from the trauma of a depressive episode. In the waiting room, their husbands strike up a seemingly banal conversation and soon realise that they’re both workers in the same trade.
John Frick (Patrick Poletti) is a successful businessman who struggles to understand why his wife is so sad when she has all that she could ever want. In contrast Leroy Hamilton (David Ricardo-Pearce) is a struggling carpenter – though descended from one of the founding fathers of the United States, his financial predicament suggests that he could literally be one of the last true Yankees in his lineage.
As for the patients themselves, Patty Hamilton (Juliet Aubrey) is seemingly cured: she has stopped taking her medication and seems very confident of being ready to go home. Karen Frick (Annie Tyson) on the other hand is nowhere near the point of recovery, she is a desperately frail and fragile creature who seems utterly lost and confused.
As a performance, The Last Yankee takes the audience on a journey of deep discovery, specifically it is an intriguing examination of both the Hamiltons and the Fricks and the circumstances that led to the wives being in a state of depression.
The men come across as being relatively useless – neither husband has managed to solve the puzzle of what caused their respective wives to be as ill as they are, and neither has any clues as to what the solution might be. Both men seem to be at the end of their tether, which creates the dizzying possibility that their own mental health might be in question.
The women on the other hand – particularly Patty Hamilton – seem to be far more in control of their individual situations and, crucially, they seem to have a far more pragmatic approach to dealing with all that is happening.
Hence, though Arthur Miller’s writing places the two wives in a psychiatric hospital, it is actually the husbands who come across as the ones who are suffering the most.
The Last Yankee is an elegantly crafted performance that stylishly casts a spotlight on despair: primarily the despair of those who suffer from depressive illness but also the despair of the loved ones who want to help and try to help but ultimately can offer nothing.
The richness and depth of emotion achieved at the end of what is a relatively short performance is outstanding – this is a delightful little gem of a show which is made just that little bit extra special thanks to the director’s incredible personal collaboration with Arthur Miller himself all those years ago.
Photography: Joel Fildes
|Visual pleasure||A very intimate setting in the basement lecture theatre of the Bolton Museum & Library. The set was relatively sparse comprising of hospital beds and chairs, but the use of mirrors added a huge dimension to the experience. The mysterious “patient” was an unusual visual feature: literally an actress who spent the entire show curled up asleep on a bed, without making any movements for the entire length of the show. The visual effect was powerful but the actual symbolism was unclear.||4|
|Auditory pleasure||Beautiful piece of introductory (and incidental) music by Adrian Johnston, there simply wasn’t enough of it – amusingly supported by the on-stage banjo playing of David Ricardo-Pearce.||3|
|Architecture & Theme||An underlying plot involving the husbands visiting their wives but the bulk of the meaning in this show lay in the character development and the constant insight that each conversation / argument added to the understanding of each individual.||5|
|Artistic delivery||Outstanding acting performances from all the cast members, star of the show has to be Annie Tyson in the role of Karen Frick – her reaction to the cruelty and coldness of her husband is outstanding.||5|
|Overall impact||A very pleasing and entertaining show that seems to dwell on despair and depression, but this is done in a highly entertaining and thought-provoking way. Seems to induce so many different emotions, all done in a relatively short space of time.||4|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|