'Powerful performances in slick and strong production.'
Arthur Miller’s The Ride Down Mt Morgan is a funny old play. By funny I don’t mean it’s a bundle of laughs, it ain’t, but funny in the sense that it has little plot and the bit it has regularly bangs you round the narrative head. In essence a man should be free to do what he likes, even if this includes two simultaneous wives, and hang the consequences. In fact in the tortuous mind of central character Lyman Felt there aren’t any consequences, merely benefits to all. Depending on your point of view it is an idea, or premise, that both attracts and repels. You don’t just mislay your moral compass; you willingly and joyfully fling the bloody thing into the nearest ocean. As my old mother used to say, it will all end in tears. Or in old Lyman’s case a car crash down the slopes of Mount Morgan.
It all very conveniently puts him in a hospital bed close to death and, inconveniently, brings those same two wives rushing to his side. Both in imagination and reality they combine and clash in the waiting room. Happens all the while at the L and D some say. On a simple but effective set, geometric acting areas clearly defined, the past and present of the rich and likeable bigamist is played out. I say likeable because although his morals may seem loathsome, to some the man himself had an uneasy charm. He had success, money, women, and a sympathetic lawyer and you don’t get all of those if you are a one hundred per cent total shit. It struck me, watching Andy Mills’ powerful and engaging performance of Lyman, that here was a man who wanted his essential inner truth so much he was prepared to act out an outrageous marital lie. His worst fault, in Miller’s writing, was his attempts to justify it. Why make one woman miserable when it is possible to keep two happy. As an exercise in self delusional narcissism it takes some beating.
As the older wife, superficially discarded, Shelley Bacall as Theo turned in a very strong portrayal that improved as the drama progressed. Her early scenes seemed a little strident, hardly surprising given her discovery of the consummate betrayal, but fleshed out in later scenes to a woman of sensitivity and depth. Her suggestion that Lyman had tried to kill her on one occasion stretched credibility in the flashback enactment, but that was the clear intention. As was the contrasting overt sexuality of Jo Emery’s Leah, a second wife rich in female swagger and fecundity. Who wouldn’t want her, she seemed to say, much as Miller himself probably said about Monroe.
St Alban’s Company of Ten is one of the best around and the sextet in this one played as a slick and strong team. It took me a while to attune to the harsh American accents and Miller’s wordy tract but, combined with director Angela Stone’s seamless scene linking, they pretty soon won me over. Helen Miller was a no nonsense but sympathetic nurse, David Bailey a refreshingly quiet and gentle lawyer with a steely edge, and Amber Williams an emotionally wired daughter. Her Bessie seemed an underdeveloped cipher in this drama, mainly underpinning mother Theo’s views, but Miss Williams blended her scenes with a great deal of skill. Florentia Chelepsis’ set impressed for its dramatic simplicity, vital in such an episodic piece, and Don Hayward touched all the right switches in pleasing lighting. But I reckon all will forgive me if I say that my lasting impression was of a man deeply flawed with dubious morality, and an impressive portrayal of him by Andy Mills which engaged and intrigued from the moment he first amplified his outrageous views. No man flies to a concupiscent future whilst clinging to a desiccated past. If he does then, as surely as God made those little green apples, he will one day ride down his own Mount Morgan. Roy Hall