Had he not died in 2005, the celebrated American playwright Arthur Miller would have celebrated his 100th birthday in October. Across the country there have been a plethora of Miller tributes, all demonstrating his brilliance and longevity as a playwright.

Miller was a prominent feature in 20th century American theatre, and has proven to be just as popular today. Since 2014, London’s West End has hosted revivals of three of his most popular plays, and up north we are topping that with two revivals at Manchester’s Royal Exchange (All My Sons, The Crucible), another at the Everyman Playhouse in Liverpool (A View From The Bridge) along with The Hook, a previously upstaged production. And just for good measure, add a sprinkling of more Miller magic at the Octagon in Bolton. That’s just to name but a few, as the theatre scene can’t get enough of Arthur Miller, but why?

At this point, I’ll confess that I am a huge Miller fan, but even I’m amazed at the permanency of my admiration. I studied his plays at different stages of my school life, and at each visit the story would renew for me, leading to fresh discoveries. Now four years since graduating, I still find it a privilege to have that love with me. Some of my friends shudder at the mere utterance of a title they studied at school, while I’m first in line at the box office when a Miller play comes to town. For me, theatre loves Miller because his work doesn’t date.

Miller has an innate way of writing about the human experience. Although the narratives are laced with drama and tragedy we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy, at the centre of these stories lie everyman characters. We see ourselves in them and we invest in their pathos. Similar to those of ancient Greek theatre, these stories will last as long as people do. The BBC actor Mark Strong, who played Eddie Carbone in a revival of A View From The Bridge last year, said of the playwright’s characters, “Miller holds up a mirror and shows us, through the behaviour of other people, how we behave.”

The themes of Miller’s plays often centre on big, contemporary issues of the day, which still carry relevance to today’s audience, generally through powerful imagery and metaphor. In 1953, Miller wrote The Crucible, a play inspired and set around the Salem witch trials of the 1600s. The play’s narrative echoed the investigations conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, at a time when Miller appeared before the committee and refused to name names. As a result, Miller was found guilty of contempt of Congress. But The Crucible has had great success in its reproductions before 21st century audiences, most recently at the Royal Exchange, which finished its run in October. The Guardian’s Alfred Hickling referred in his review to the production’s “remarkable capacity to cleave to our current ideological schisms and paranoia. In the 17th century people were terrified of witches; in the 1950s it was communists; today it’s the threat of terrorism.” Miller identifies society’s tendency to turn on itself.

Technically speaking, Miller is a wonderful playwright – that recognition and accessibility isn’t a happy accident. The simplicity of his writing is created through precision, creating intricate plots that run deeper than just the words spoken. Speaking from experience, this is a phenomenal foundation for an actor. You can put much more into the role because you know the structure and storytelling are already established for you. The roles are all incredibly demanding, but ones that all actors are drawn to. Howard Davies, who directed a West End production of All My Sons in 2011, has supported this theory in previous interviews. “Miller is writing for actors who are facing their own inadequacies,” he said. “Actors know they are going to be mightily challenged. But when it comes off, it’s great.”

There is also a respect to the work of the director. Miller seldom interfered with the director’s vision. No doubt it must be incredibly difficult for a writer to trust a director with a world you have created, but Miller never meddled with their process. Howard Davies made it to his living room and although he was expecting to be “graced with half an hour […], three-and-a-half hours later, I emerged having had this incredible debate with him.” A director closer to home who had the fortune to work with the playwright was former Artistic Director of Bolton Octagon, David Thacker.

“I’ve come to know him (Arthur Miller) as a man who is witty, intelligent and most of all a man who loves human beings […] I wouldn’t exchange anything else I’ve ever done in the theatre for the experience of working with him.”

Thacker first met Miller while direction An Enemy Of The People; Miller’s adaptation of the play by Henrik Ibsen. This sparked off an incredible writer director relationship between the two; Miller has said when a play is ready “he would hope that David would direct it” and through his career David has had input from Miller himself.

In a fitting tribute to this relationship and 100 years of Miller, the Octagon Theatre staged a series of insightful events over a two-day program last month. Thacker hosted a selection of lectures and discussions as part of the two-day Arthur Miller centenary celebration at which he shared the different challenges faced when directing Death Of A Salesman for both his BBC film adaptation and the stage. The afternoon hosted a selection of fantastic lectures by the University of Bolton professors, ranging from ‘Arthur Miller on Screen’ by Dr Nicola Shaw to ‘Un-American’ by Ed Jones.

The evening session included an inaugural lecture on Miller’s Broken Glass presented by David Thacker. Thacker directed the British premiere – and the world premiere of the final authorised text of the play – at The National Theatre in 1994.

I’ve made no secret of my admiration of Arthur Miller and his work, but it looks as though I’m not alone. The celebration at the Octagon was thoroughly fantastic, and the many who attended really reaped the rewards. It’s always nice to see a Miller production return to the stage, sharing a fresh vision of the work penned years before, but there is nothing quite like sharing real stories of the man himself. If Miller had lived to see his 100th birthday, I have no doubt how honoured he would be to still remain one of the most popular writers of our time. As long as there are humans there will be Arthur Miller.

Kate Morris