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I'm finally going to break Ev duck.


SHORTLY before his latest film, The Hook, was about to go into production, playwright Arthur Miller was called into the office of Columbia Pictures' boss Harry Cohn.

"In the office was the union boss," relates actor Joe Alessi, "and also the FBI were there as well.

"They basically gave him an ultimatum and said look, unless you make the villains of the piece communist, or have communist leanings, then the film won't be made."

Miller declined, and The Hook - his tale of a Brooklyn longshoreman who challenges the corruption among those who control the docks - remained unfilmed.

Incidentally, his director Elia Kazan did go on to shoot a very different dockers' drama. On The Waterfront.

More than 60 years on though, and in the centenary year of Miller's birth, The Hook - his "play for the screen" as he dubbed it - is finally being put before an audience, albeit on stage, in a new world premiere co-production between the Everyman and Playhouse and The Royal & Derngate in Northampton.

The project has been a six-year labour of love for director James Dacre, and his passion has infected his cast too.

"It's almost like finding a lost Shakespeare really," says Joe, who plays the president of his branch of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA).

"But what The Hook has is absolute direct parallels with what's going on today. It completely chimes. You've got growing unemployment, zero hour contacts, exploited workforce, immigration - both legal and illegal.

"And also, it chimes with corruption at the top of major organisations. You only have to look at Fifa and what's happening there."

The cast arrived to discover Dacre, designer Patrick Connellan and writer Ron Hutchinson, had amassed a large amount of research material.

They spent the first 10 days of rehearsals just looking into the history of the era and giving presentations to the group on different subjects.

"My particular one was corruption in the ILA," Joe explains. "Someone else did a little speech about working conditions, and someone else did a speech about immigration at the time.

"What happens is you end up with a company that's just armed to the teeth with juicy material. And you can embody that. As good actors we put that forward and that's fantastic."

The 51-year-old's character Louis might be head of his union 'local',' but his first loyalty is to himself and his boss, and how much money they can personally make.

Joe doesn't like to see him as simply a baddie though.

"I have to try and find what makes him tick," he adds. "He's not an out-and-out gangster. He doesn't kill people.

"Certainly people might disappear!

But he doesn't do any of the killing himself."

The story is one of a close-knit community grappling with a world of crime and punishment, and a changing industry. Accrington-born Joe hopes its dock setting will have a particular resonance for Liverpool audiences.

The LAMDA-trained actor, who worked in a clothes shop - Lord John in Blackburn - before a friend pushed him into amateur dramatics in his early 20s, is no stranger to the city.

He appeared in Romeo and Juliet at the Playhouse more than a decade ago, and also originated the role of Orgon in Roger McGough's glorious Tartuffe in Capital of Culture year, repeating it in 2011.

"I had a ball doing that," he recalls. "It was a joy to perform. It's one of the happiest experiences I've ever had as an actor.

"It's a real privilege to utter words that people like Moliere, and subsequently Roger McGough, have written."

This latest visit will be particularly special however.

"Finally - I break my Everyman duck!" he laughs.

"Finally, I can say I'm at the famous Ev. I'm looking forward to that."

Arthur Miller's The Hook is at the .Liverpool Everyman from July 1-25.


Joe Alessi and company in Arthur Miller's The Hook | MANUEL HARLAN
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jun 19, 2015
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