It has taken more than 60 years but Arthur Miller’s incendiary drama, about corruption and mob rule in New York’s docks, has finally seen the light of day.
Miller wrote The Hook as a screenplay in 1951 but studio bosses were so scared of the unions that the writer mothballed the project rather than water down the story.
But a fearless co-production between Northampton’s Royal & Derngate and Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre, has re-discovered the lost gem and a stage adaptation premiered last night.
It is impossible to under-estimate the power and influence wielded by the Mafia in the dark days of American trades union history.
Such was their stranglehold that ordinary working men couldn’t make a living unless they towed the line. Bosses couldn’t operate without paying kickbacks.
So we’re back on the waterfront, in familiar Arthur Miller territory, for a blue-collar story of how one (relatively) honest man stands up to the unions in a bid to get a better deal for his friends.
The action takes place in the Red Hook district of Brooklyn in 1951. Desperate longshoremen are being forced to work long hours, often with little or no pay. Corners and costs are being cut, accidents happen.
Italian born hothead Marty Ferrara (Jamie Sives giving a stormin’ performance) wants out. His family are starving and they can’t get by on the little he is bringing in from the docks.
But pretty soon he’s back and this time he’s spoiling for a fight. He recklessly pits himself against union boss Louis (a menacing Joe Alessi) in a leadership fight. The men have to decide if they have the courage to go against the racketeers who run the union or fold.
How far are they prepared to go and are their jobs worth dying for?
Director James Dacre keeps the action bowling along with short snappy scenes that are tightly cut. The pace never slackens and an air of menace permeates the entire production.
It takes a while to attune your ears to the thick Brooklyn accents. The predominately male cast talk so fast and loud that I missed some initial dialogue.
But the production is blessed with one of the best scores I’ve heard in a long time (and very cinematic).
The powerful and evocative music from Isobel Waller-Bridge really heightens the tension as the story reaches its climax.
Patrick Connellan’s superb set design is also a huge success bringing part of the dockside to a very small stage in one of England’s most landlocked counties.
Sives gives a stand-out turn as Marty. He’s dark and brooding like a young Russell Crowe or even Stallone, creating a character who is instantly recognisable to us as the underdog punching far above his weight.
Joe Alessi may wear a suit but Louis is a fink (I just love Miller’s frequent use of that word). He sounds totally credible as he threatens and cajoles his workforce.
The company is once again boosted by community actors who play non-speaking roles (including a few heavies, wives, dockers) while the core cast concentrate on giving first rate performances as longshoremen living on the breadline.
Amid the hustle and bustle of the piers walks Darkeyes (Ewart James Walters) who, although blind, is very much the eyes and ears of the docks. He’s a much under-used character but beautifully played.
The Hook is a good stage play but you can imagine it being a great screen drama, utilising outside locations.
I’m sure the unions today are far more democratic. They have to be as they are so tightly controlled. But the issues Miller bravely tackled in The Hook are as relevant today as they were in the 1950s.
How often do we see newspaper headlines about cheap immigrant labour being used, increasingly so, by bosses wanting to pay below the minimum wage at the expense of skilled workers.
The Hook plays on the Royal stage until June 27. It moves to The Everyman Theatre running from July 1-25.
Arthur Miller’s, The Hook, a blistering tale of corruption and mob rule on the waterfront, finally gets its world premiere, after a 60 year wait, with an incendiary co-production from Liverpool Everyman and Northampton’s Royal & Derngate Theatres.