The Hook is an exciting prospect for the Everyman and Playhouse theatres, where a bit of Arthur Miller has always appealed. Fret not if it doesn’t sound as familiar as the playwright’s masterpieces like Death of a Salesman or The Crucible – the play is an adaptation of a never-before-performed screenplay, that was surpressed by Miller following pressure from the FBI during the McCarthy era. Miller, as is well-documented, was investigated by the US government for his alleged links to the Communist Party. There’s your history lesson.
This rabble-rousing testament to the power of collective action certainly has the power to get up noses; it’s no-nonsense, testosterone-fueled passion is an inspiring polemic against The Man. Set among the longshoremen of the Brooklyn Docks, it’s the story you can imagine running in the background of the domestic drama of Miller’s classic A View from the Bridge; although this tale is somewhat two-dimensional in comparison.
There’s little room for nuance or shade in this straightforward tale of docker Marty Ferrara, who stands up against the well-heeled boss men in his run for union president. A natural leader, Ferrara has a fire in his belly and determination to fight for safer conditions and honest pay for himself and his colleagues. But self-preservation is all, when you’ve no guarantee of an honest day’s work in the first place, and he finds few others reluctant to stick their heads above the parapet and call out corruption and unfair practice.
Adapted for the stage by Ron Hutchinson and directed by James Dacre, this production is fast-paced and to the point. A community ensemble helps to create a hustle and bustle of the Red Hook neighbourhood and Patrick Connellan’s set, part ship’s hull, part dockside and more still, is imaginative, fitting, and looks great on the Everyman stage.
Miller’s writing is as gutsy as it is poetic, and Ferrara is a protagonist that any compassionate audience member should unequivocally root for, although he may not be as fully-fleshed as any Willy Loman or Eddie Carbone. Jamie Sives’s performance is at its best when our hero is under his greatest strains. A scene where he convinces a hall full of immigrants to join his cause is exciting and urgent; the twist at the end of the vote is quite heartbreaking. There’s no real subtlety to The Hook, but there is real humanity, and in some ways the play only goes to highlight how inequality in the workplace remains an issue today. As a member of a union branch currently fighting for survival, I left The Hook with mixed feelings. It gave me hope and pride – as well as a sadness that the very concept might soon enough be a throwback in itself.