HOW WE MET : DAVID THACKER AND ARTHUR MILLER
Sunday 30 April 1995
DAVID THACKER: I first met Arthur Miller through his work. It was A View From The Bridge, directed by Bob Charlton at York. I'd never encountered a modern play quite like it. It was very, very emotional, it had an extremely strong narrative drive, a psychological intensity and truth, a political and social perspective, and it was a language play. He writes like a poet.
He was wearing a lumberjack shirt when I first saw him, and a few years later, when I visited him at his house, I understood why. His house is surrounded by woodland - most of the trees were planted by him - and my early morning run was round the lake fashioned by Arthur from the swamps.
I've come to know him as a man who is witty, intelligent and, most of all, a man who loves human beings. He's a touchstone by which we judge artistic endeavour - I wouldn't exchange anything else I've ever done in the theatre for the experience of working with him.
I met him properly when I was doing his version of An Enemy of the People. I phoned him up to check that it would be OK to adjust some of the language and put back a couple of speeches from Ibsen's original. He was extremely generous and said, "Try it out." That production transferred to the West End and he decided he'd like to come over and see it and also spend some time in rehearsal with Two Way Mirror. I was terrified. It was the first time he'd seen anything I'd directed of his. But he was thrilled with the production and he turned to me as soon as the play was over and said, "Who's that woman playing the Doctor's wife - she's fantastic." I said, "She's Margot Leicester." I didn't say she was my wife, but I glowed with happiness.
As a director of Arthur Miller's plays, my function is to express the playwright's play for him. When we were rehearsing The Price, Arthur spent three days in the theatre working through the play unit by unit. It was the most creative time I'd experienced. Playwrights can be incisive about their work, but they are not necessarily good at working with actors.
Physically he's big and strong and extremely charismatic. It's easy to forget how old he is, because he has the mind and brain of a much younger man. He's amazingly sexy. Women just go crazy for him - as do men. I've seen rooms full of actors sit at his feet and devour his every word. They'll take the most penetrating criticism on the nose and come back for more. He's like a lie detector - he can't tolerate evasion of the truth.
When Arthur encounters actors who can dig deep into their emotional systems in the way his plays require, he radiates pleasure, but he will also challenge them very strongly. "The wonderful thing about these actors," Arthur once told me about British actors, "is that they can be pointing over there and you can say no, it's there, and they do it. With American actors it will take three days to get 'em off the ceiling."
I feel I'll know what kind of actor he'll like because it's the kind of actor I like, I'll know what he thinks is phoney because it's what I think is phoney. I phoned him up the week before we opened A View From The Bridge and asked him to imagine what he might say to the actors at this point. He said: "I think the most important thing now is to attend to the rhythm." The day before I had said to the actors: "Focus on the rhythm. If you don't get the inner rhythm of the scene, the emotional life won't be right." It was wonderful to me that that was exactly what he said that night, when neither of us had ever used that formulation before.
ARTHUR MILLER: Actually I don't recall the day or the evening when me met. It was around his theatre, the Young Vic. I was sitting in on rehearsals of The Price, putting my comment on the performances. I found David and I were usually of one mind, principally because he liked my ideas and I was able to move in next to him and make little speeches now and then which he enjoyed. I like to be around anyone who enjoys my speeches.
I have worked with actors and directors in rehearsal, but very often I step back for fear of overwhelming either the director or his relationship with the actors. There ought to be one director and not two, so that the actors feel secure with what the director is telling them. David has great confidence in his relationship with the actors. He didn't feel I was moving in on them. In fact he kept pressing me to say more. David seemed to have a spiritual connection with these actors and I got the feeling that we were all joined in one organism, so to speak. It was the first time I'd had that sort of relationship with English people, though I've done it - not too often, but sometimes - in America. It depends on the director. If I feel the director would be undermined, I'll take him aside and talk to him, rather than directly to the actors.
When David called me to discuss An Enemy of the People, I was encouraged. He was right in the middle of the idea of the play. He understood it so well that I could trust him with these little shifts of stuff he wanted to do. When he suggested Broken Glass needed a new scene I also felt there was a need for a break just before the last scene. It was difficult to know how to create it, but once we began talking, there seemed to be a possibility for a scene between the two women. David wasn't obtrusive at all.
David's not simply a travelling director who moves from one play to another. He throws his whole personality into what he's doing and before he ever sees an actor he has a strong idea of what a play is expressing and why it exists in the first place. He's tuned into that in a way that is wonderful. I mind if a director over-interprets my work. My plays are pretty integrated, and when a director starts to fool around with that, then he's going to get in trouble.
What I enjoy a lot about David's productions is that British actors like to speak. Many American actors do too, but some feel that the words are a kind of encumbrance to the emotional life of the work. There is a quality in New York now which is very defeating. There is an atmosphere which is quite hostile. One production after another has left Broadway and gone some place else because of that atmosphere. A play depends on the relationship with the audience, and if that relationship is stifled you begin to feel you're in a fight rather than a song. This complaint is now quite widespread - in fact Paul Simon is opening plays off-Broadway, because the amount of money riding on everything is simply frightening. In London, there's a much more open-hearted kind of exchange between stage and audience.
David is much younger than I. He still has a kind of wonder about the theatre which I love, and that feeds into my feeling about whatever he's doing. Also, he's very stubborn with the actors, which I like. He will go back and back over something until the actor is clear about what he needs to do. What he's doing is not simply a lot of general direction. It's a very concise and practical kind of direction which I like. David's production of Broken Glass was very lyrical, and the actors were listening to each other wonderfully, which I appreciated.
My relationship with him is, I suppose, as his grandfather. I enjoy the youthful energy he's got. He's terrific. I'm wrest- ling with a play, but God knows when that will be ready. When it is, I would hope that David would direct it. !
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