Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Sean Turner: No Villain

By | Published on Monday 30 November 2015


Even fairly ardent Arthur Miller fans probably won’t be aware of his first play, ‘No Villain’, and certainly won’t have seen it, because astonishingly, it’s never been performed before. Luckily for London, its about to have its premiere at the Old Red Lion theatre.
Like most people with sense, I am pretty in awe of Miller’s talent and oeuvre, so I am very keen to see this. To find out more about it, I put some questions to Sean Turner, who tracked down the ‘lost’ script, and who directs this first production of the play.

CM: Tell us about ‘No Villain’. What story does the play tell, and what sort of themes does it explore? Is it political?
ST: ‘No Villain’ is Arthur Miller’s previously unseen first play and it tells the story of his own loved ones struggle to maintain the family business in the height of the Great Depression. It explores Miller’s interest in communism and how that affects his relationship with his family so yes, it speaks of politics, but I would say it is a morality play at heart: as always with Miller, it is about the human struggle to balance individual duty with social responsibility.

CM: This is Arthur Miller’s long lost debut. How did it come to be lost, and how did you find it?
ST: Lost is perhaps the wrong word; neglected might be better. I became interested in finding a copy of the text after reading about ‘No Villain’ in Miller’s autobiography, ‘Timebends’. He wrote the play to win a student prize at the University of Michigan, and whilst he won the award (and the $250 bounty) the play was never staged. It has remained in the University’s libraries gathering dust until now, and that’s where I found it after an eighteen month search.

CM: He was a great playwright, obviously, but is this a great play, or one which is more of an indication of his potential?
ST: Very few playwrights get it right first time, and I can see why people might be wary. Sometimes lost plays are lost for a reason. I genuinely do not believe this is the case with ‘No Villain’. For my money, it is as well-crafted as any of his other early works and a vital addition to Miller’s repertoire. Don’t take my word for it though, come along and see for yourself.

CM: What made you want to bring this to the stage?
ST: As a young director, I get a lot of opportunities to work with new writers, and I love that work. I am director of a Shakespeare company called Permanently Bard, so I am lucky enough get to work with the classics too. What doesn’t get done on the Off West End scene very often is modern classics, usually because the play’s performance rights are prohibitive. I wanted to find a way through that, and to stage something really special. When I first read this play after such a long search, I was braced for bitter disappointment in a sub-standard script, but by the time I had reached the end, I knew it had to be seen by an audience and not just Miller aficionados.

CM: Is there a significance to the timing of this production?
ST: It’s a bit of serendipity really. I always wanted to produce a Miller for his Centenary (Arthur would have been 100 in October) but I didn’t dream I would uncover this play. Now that I have, I can think of no better way to celebrate this historic centenary.

CM: Are you a fan of Arthur Miller in general? Do you have a favourite work of his?
ST: I love him, I wouldn’t go to these lengths otherwise. I’m a bit of a know it all when it comes to Miller. Choosing a favourite work is tough but I would have to say ‘All My Sons’. I think it’s about as perfect as a traditional play can be. As with all his work, it is deeply affecting, with endearing, flawed heroes and a solid moral centre. His plays are ABOUT something, unlike a lot of modern works.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your fellow-creatives on this project? Who is involved, and how did the team come together?
ST: I am delighted with the team we have put together. A few are people I’ve worked with before. There are also a lot of new faces, but they are the brightest of a new generation of British theatre-makers. Our designer Max Dorey has been turning heads with his astonishingly detailed sets and Richard Melkonian is an incredibly gifted composer who has written an original score for the piece. The cast we have managed to put together are also pretty brilliant.

CM: Do you think the play is likely to tour? Is there any chance of it being seen in Miller’s home country?
ST: We are, of course, hoping to see a future for the production and we are talking to a few people both here and across the Atlantic. For now though, our focus is the Old Red Lion and making sure that we do justice to this superb play.

‘No Villain’ is on at Old Red Lion from 8 Dec-9 January. See this page here for more info and to book tickets.