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Review of The Hook by Arthur Miller at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The play The Hook based on an original screenplay by Arthur Miller has lain dormant for over sixty years, failing to make it to the screen due to political tensions at the time. However although the story has been untold in this time, for those that have seen either Miller's A View From The Bridge or the brooding Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, will be very familiar with the environment and style depicted here.

Adapted for the stage in a sharp and snappy paced manner by Emmy winning writer Ron Hutchinson, the play tells the story of dockyard worker Marty Ferrara in the Red Hook district of Brooklyn. The tale tells of his battle with mobsters, unions and the dockyard authorities all instigated following the death of a co-worker, as well a dalliance as a bookmaker. Playing Marty and fully channeling Marlon Brando is Jamie Sives. He is a dominant presence throughout and generally maintains a clear and solid accent. Indeed the accents are clear and solid across the board, only very occasionally drifting out of clarity, mostly when there is background noise going on. There is no awkward Cat On A Hot Tin Roof scenario going on here though.

Also almost in traditional repertory style there are actors seen quite recently on the same stage. These include Dealer's Choice's Tom Canton as Sleeper, a smaller role than the earlier play but no less imposing from the tall actor. Also familiar with Made In Northampton audiences is Sean Murray who during 2014 appeared in both Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and A Tale Of Two Cities. Here as Rocky he is at his best, playing the tough presidential bid rival to Ferrara, who would do seemingly anything in his desperate need for his own pier. It is a superbly played performance and I feel the best of the play.

Also superb is Susie Trayling as Therese, the wife of Marty. Being the only speaking female within a male dominated play is tough, but she plays the put upon and seemingly constantly distraught wife with a wonderful softness in such a stark world. Also although only briefly appearing now and again Ewart James Walters is a dazzling figure as blind seller Darkeyes. There is also much to delight from the community ensemble that provides the bustling dockyard, market place and street scenes with life.

Despite all the living breathing stars of the show, there is a dominant non-speaking star, the set. Designer Patrick Connellan and his team have truly created something special with their work. Imposing and dynamic in movement, it switches with ease from dockyard to public hall and endless more. A canopy of overarching windows also forms an ominous presence over the whole environment, complete with broken panes of glass and providing access for a key second half scene. Added to this is superb use of the stage trap door and pools of water to each side of the stage to complete a most stunning and living environment. The best set I have seen so far on the Royal stage.

The staging is superb throughout with the movement of the workers realistically portrayed as they go about their tough unforgiving work. Probably the visually most striking scene is the safe one, which through use of superb lighting and sound switches between the interior and exterior of the hall to dazzling effect. The music from Isobel Waller-Bridge is also tough and striking, breaking in at perfect times with its powerful tones and bridging scene changes wonderfully.

So little time after the huge success of King John, director James Dacre has struck gold once again. Like that play, almost four hundred years old, this a mere sixty, still has a huge resonance in public society. The tales may be old, but indeed they are still overwhelmingly relevant. This piece will strike a cord with many politically, while others will just be carried away on a gritty, authentic trip to fifties New York. Whichever is does for you, you are sure to be hooked for the duration of this magnetic production.

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Performance reviewed: The third preview on Monday 8th June, 2015 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.

The Hook runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 27th June, 2015 before touring.

For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

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