The Octagon and the York Theatre Royal have bravely taken on one of Arthur Miller's lesser known works rather than stage one of the more obvious choices such as The Crucible or All My Sons.
Damian Cruden opens his production with a visible musician Christopher Madin playing the cello providing the play with a haunting soundtrack. This truly works as the composer and musical director is watching the action beneath a gauze highlighting every emotional peak within the narrative. The central plot line is incredibly strong and Cruden directs like this is a courtroom drama, wracking the tension up with real panache.
The setting is New York, 1938, Sylvia Gellburg (Barbara Marten) is paralysed and Dr Harry Hyman (Richard Heap) attempts to investigate what has caused this sudden condition. Sylvia is obsessed with newspaper images of Jewish persecution in Nazi Germany. This imagery haunts her as does her husband's lack of love and affection towards her. As the doctor comes closer to finding the cause of Sylvia's affliction, boundaries become blurred and the three characters lives become changed forever.
To give away more than this would ruin a compelling drama which like all of Miller's work has an underlying sense of tragedy looming within every scene or line of dialogue. The themes of what is to be Jewish in New York against the backdrop of persecution in Germany are eloquently linked by both the legendary playwright and the director.
The actors all rise to the challenge this gripping piece provides them with. Marten excellently portrays her character's sense of isolation via her physical disability but also as a result of a broken heart. Robert Pickavance plays the dispassionate husband with ease. His delivers Miller's multi-layered dialogue beautifully and draws raw emotion from the humourous facade. Heap also convinces as the doctor turned detective and his scenes with Marten are extremely passionate.
Patrick Connellan's wooden set works well as there is no love in the house, just the bare belongings that the couple have collected. But constant set changes disrupt the narrative and at times take the audience away from the mesmerising performances. The play is also overlong, particularly the first half; but this piece does have a vice- like grip and it is proof that the Octagon has another big hit on their hands.