The Man Who Had All The Luck

Published April 17, 2008

Is a person just a metaphorical jellyfish, who cannot swim and is pushed around by the tides of fate, or can he make things happen in his life? That is the question posed by Arthur Miller in his early, little known play, a fable centring on David Beeves, the titular Man Who Had All The Luck. But does he want it? Caroline Bishop went to see Sean Holmes’s production at the Donmar Warehouse to find out…

While others strive all their lives to achieve it, for David Beeves, a 22-year-old car rural mechanic, the American dream drops in his lap. Though he initially feels directionless, this earnest, likeable young man finds that good fortune decides his direction for him. Without any training as a car mechanic, the garage he finds himself running becomes a great success; Hester, his childhood sweetheart, is freed to marry him after her father, who objected to their union so vehemently he threatened to put a bullet through David’s head, conveniently dies; when David is struggling to fix the car of a prominent farmer, a skilled mechanic happens to walk into his garage at four in the morning and fix it for him.

Miller draws a stark comparison between David, blessed by the hand of fate, and his brother Amos, who has been groomed by their father Patterson from the age of nine to become a baseball pro but still hasn’t made it to the big league. Desperate to succeed in the only field he has been trained for, Amos is forced to sit and wait, hoping to catch the eye of a baseball scout, while David’s life runs so smoothly it is, as friend JB Feller says, “like watching one of them nice movies.”

As David, Andrew Buchan depicts a kind-hearted man who, rather than revelling in his good fortune, increasingly struggles with it, feeling his brother more deserving of a lucky break than himself. When Amos’s hopes of a glittering baseball career are dashed, along with his relationship with his father, David becomes wracked with guilt and shame. Convinced that he must pay for all his good luck, he takes bigger and bigger risks, almost willing a catastrophe to befall him, as if that would make him more human.

A strong cast includes Felix Scott as Amos and Michelle Terry as Hester, David’s ebullient, loving wife, who can see more clearly than David can that his luck may be not luck at all, but a result of David’s own abilities and hard work. Aidan Kelly and Mark Lewis Jones vividly depict friends Shory and JB Feller, whose lives have suffered through their own choices, while Shaun Dingwall is amusing as Austrian mechanic Gustav Eberson, who has some of the best lines in the play.

The effective set by designer Paul Wills includes a car descending from the flies, while Christopher Shutt’s atmospheric sound adds to the ominous cloud that hovers over David’s journey. Ultimately though, David realises that he has played as much a part in his own life as fate, and rather than waiting for an imagined disaster he should be content with his luck, and, as Gustav wryly tells him, “grin and bear it”.

The Man Who Had All The Luck plays at the Donmar Warehouse until 5 April.

CB