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The American Clock"For them the clock would never strike midnight, the dance and the music could never stop." So says the narrator of The American Clock, confusingly, considering the show begins with the Stock Market Crash of 1929, after the dance and music have stopped. This new production of Arthur Miller's rarely produced play, on now at the Old Vic, offers some emotional and aesthetic rewards, but misses more often than it hits.

The American ClockThere is a real clumsiness in The American Clock, from its title (what are we counting down to?) to its pathos-dripping critique of capitalism, to its direction, by Rachel Chavkin, who makes the stage a giant lazy Susan, and makes the audience feel like they're watching a pretty plaid pantry.

Set mostly in New York during the Great Depression, The American Clock follows one family from 1929 to the outbreak of World War Two, and is interspersed with unconnected vignettes set all about the country.

Many of the scenes are individually powerful or compelling, but as a whole, the show lacks cohesion. The Baum family are lost amid weeping bankers and shouting farmers. This production feels modular, as if it could be taken apart and reassembled as a show running one hour or four hours. It should be closer to one hour.

The set, by Chloe Lamford, and the costumes, by Rosie Elnile, are charming and simple. Justin Ellington and Jim Henson are to credit for the excellent score, which evokes both the era and its echoes in the modern world. Unfortunately, the musical interludes add precious minutes to a show that already struggles to justify its runtime.

Fred Haig and Francesca Mill stand out among the cast, spinning melodrama into humour.

The American Clock lacks neither talent nor good ideas, but discipline. With a revolving stage, triple-cast actors, groovy musical arrangements, and spontaneous dance breaks, there is a sense of creative bingeing. A lot of cool devices are employed, but at the expense of simplicity and honesty.

The American Clock at the Old Vic until 30 March

Photo by Manuel Harlan

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