Arthur Miller’s The Man Who Had All the Luck – his first Broadway play and a fast flop that ran for just 4 performances in its original 1944 production – didn’t of course prove that Miller was that man; nor would the apparent good fortune of the most famous event of his private life, his marriage to Marilyn Monroe twelve years later, who was then one of the most desired female movie stars on the planet. The title of the 1961 screenplay he wrote for what turned out to be her last film seems to be more prescient: The Misfits. But watching the Donmar Warehouse revival of The Man Who Had All the Luck yesterday afternoon, I started to wonder if I was the man who has all the luck.
Unlike David Beeves, the title character of Miller’s play, I won’t ruin it by constantly doubting it and waiting for that luck to run out, but will relish and celebrate it instead. Days don’t get too much better than yesterday’s.
I began it – as I always do – by writing this blog, and as yesterday’s entry showed, I’d had my own bit of gracious good fortune the day before when I managed to get a treasured scarf back that I’d left on a train within minutes of it pulling away from the station, thanks to the interventions of a brilliant station guard who called ahead to the next stop on the line and got someone to look for it there, who promptly sent it back to Richmond on the next train coming the other way, before I went to a matinee of The Deep Blue Sea. As a friend who read yesterday’s entry said to me in an e-mail, “That is so very sweet in a 1950s railway way — so perfect as a preamble to Rattigan.”
Then I went into my office to write up an interview profile with Leanne Jones, this year’s Olivier Award winner for Best Actress in a Musical for Hairspray, whom I had met earlier in the week fresh from her triumph and with whom I couldn’t have had a better time. Within seconds of meeting her, she immediately cheered herself – and me! – up by placing an order for “something chocolate-y” to accompany our coffee, and we had happily (and greedily) devoured two huge slabs of chocolate brownie as a result. Anyone who has seen Hairspray will realise just how deserved that chocolate brownie is, let alone the Olivier – she’s doing such a brisk nightly workout that she’s actually losing a bit too much weight, and she told me they’re already having to pad out her bra to keep her as curvy as the character needs to be.
The interview just flowed from my tape recorder onto the page, and once I’d filed it, I did a little work-out of my own, walking to the West End from my office on the other side of the river near the Tate Modern. Not much of a work-out, I realise – but what bliss it always is to make the river crossing across Waterloo Bridge. And then of course I went to the Donmar for the matinee of The Man Who Had All the Luck, and my luck continued, not just with this fascinating reclamation of an intriguing early Miller, but also for the company I was able to keep there: not only was Simon Russell Beale there, spending the afternoon in the theatre before going on to act himself later in the day in the National’s Major Barbara, so we were able to say hello, but also a couple of other friends. Going to press nights one is invariably surrounded by people one knows – it’s virtually Groundhog Day every night. But going on to a “regular” performance is more hit and miss; yesterday I hit twice, seeing American academic and theatre expert John Clum there, as well as fellow critic and colleague Matt Wolf.
After the show I’d arranged to meet Michael Grandage, the Donmar’s artistic director, for a profile I’m doing for The Stage, and we retreated to the empty upstairs bar to do it in. I’ve known him for years and chatted to him often before, both formally (at press conferences) and informally (like Simon Russell Beale, he’s an inveterate theatre fan as well as maker, so we’ve coincided at odd matinees, like one fairly deserted afternoon at the Arcola), but this was the first time I’d done a face-to-face interview with him – and the first time, incidentally, that he’s having a profile done in The Stage, too, he remarked. The Donmar, of course, is firing on all cylinders at the moment: not just here at its Covent Garden homebase, but yesterday afternoon’s Miller sets off on a three-date national tour after it leaves here as part of the Donmar’s growing touring presence; but also with its year-long residency at Wyndham’s to come, and its West End version of Guys and Dolls heading to an Australian opening in Melbourne next month. Frost/Nixon is to be re-staged for a US national tour; and there are also Broadway plans for its production of Mary Stuart next year. So there was much to talk about, as I’ll be reporting more fully in The Stage soon.
Next I headed back south of the river, to pick up my car (and partner), and head over to a venue I rarely visit, even though it’s so immediately local to me: Kennington’s Oval House. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw a show there: I know I once interviewed Bette Bourne in the bar for a Bloolips show, but I don’t think I even saw it. But last night was a surprising treat: Paines Plough were staging a new play by young Royal Court writer Levi David Addai there called House of Agnes, and it pulsed with conviction in its portrayal of contemporary black family life as a single parent mother tries, but fails, to loosen the iron-like reigns she has over her two adult sons.
And even then the evening was not over yet: the last stop of the day took me back to the National, where I was hosting a post-performance Q&A event for the development department with two of the cast of Major Babara, and we were graced by the presence of Clare Higgins and Paul Ready (for whom, thanks to my brief chat with Simon Russell Beale earlier in the afternoon, I had the correct pronunciation of his surname: it is Ready as in ready or not, rather than reid-y). Over drinks (and divine chocolate mousse – Leanne Jones should have come, too!), the actors held court till gone 11pm. It was a splendid end to a splendid day.