The Last Yankee

Bolton Library Theatre

Until Saturday, March 16

DAVID Thacker says The Last Yankee is about hope — and from the moment Octagon veteran David Ricardo-Pierce strides on to the bijou stage in the basement of Bolton Library, Museum and Art Gallery, that much is clear.

As carpenter Leroy Hamilton, a descendant of the American Founding Father currently being celebrated on the Broadway and West End stages, he occupies the waiting room of a mental institution, where his wife and mother of his seven children, is suffering her latest serious episode of depression.

The clue to his hope in the face of that adversity is his banjo case, which also gives the audience an expectation that there is a lighter mood waiting in the wings.

Reasons for losing, keeping hold of, rediscovering and realising hope are explored with a clever glance at the state of two marriages.

The first act, considerably shorter than the one after the interval, constitutes an enlightening exchange of values with another patient’s husband, Leroy’s polar opposite, the wealthy and childless John Frick who finds his only reason to admire Leroy is his illustrious ancestry. It was Hamilton after all who presented the vision of a strong economy and a national bank. Patrick Poletti has an easy confidence as Frick, the successful businessman with zero self awareness who quickly lays bare the reasons for his own wife’s despondency, obvious to everyone in the room but him.

The reasons for Leroy and his wife Patty’s foundering relationship are more complicated. And Juliet Aubrey makes a stunning job of unpeeling all the layers that have made it so.

It was a privilege to see close-up the skills that won Aubrey a BAFTA back in 1995 for her memorable Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch.

Every word of her conversation with Frick’s wife Karen, played with delightful versatility by Annie Tyson, is matched with expression and movement. For every one of the 85 minutes she is on stage, Aubrey holds the attention, the others following her lead. She draws us to the centre of every thought Patty is striving to voice, every memory she delights in, every frustration, grief and disappointment that hold her in their grip.

But finally, after a truly enjoyable and entertaining climactic moment on which the whole play hinges, and which she has steered and conducted, Aubrey brings the night to a very satisfying conclusion.

Arthur Miller’s The Last Yankee premiered in 1993, way before mental illness was recognised and treated in the way it is today. This production is thought provoking for that issue alone, but it considers much more than that . . . for instance what makes for false hope, reasons not to give up on a relationship, what if your career ladder is up against the wrong wall?

Even if you’re not up for a night of life-coaching, Thacker’s latest production as Professor of Theatre at the University of Bolton is well worth going into town for the Juliet Aubrey masterclass alone.

And who knew the library basement would so easily convert to a theatre?

Maxine Wolstenholme