Theatre review: All My Sons

Posted on: 08 June 2010 by Mark O'haire

Guilt, grief and shared moral responsibility are the issues that take centre stage in Arthur Miller’s great drama All My Sons (Apollo Theatre) which is revived in a tremendous new production directed by Howard Davies.

The story set over a single day in 1947 follows the fortunes of “honest” Joe Keller, a family man to the core, who is haunted by a dark secret – he knowingly supplied World War II fighter planes with defective cylinder heads, resulting in the deaths of 21 innocent pilots, a crime for which his business partner took the fall. One of Keller’s sons, himself a pilot, is thought to have been killed in action. But his distraught mother can’t accept his death nor that her dead son’s fiancé’ has transferred her affections to her other son. The devastating confrontations that ensue lead to the uncovering of the shameful family secret.

Inspired by a real life event when, according to the playwright, ‘a pious lady from the Middle West’ described an incident in Ohio in which a daughter turned in her father to the FBI when she discovered that he had been selling faulty machinery to the army, Miller then transformed the woman into a son and wrote what is essentially a modern Greek tragedy set in an American backyard. The play premiered in 1947 and marked Miller’s first major theatrical triumph.

Miller’s timeless theme of man’s responsibility towards his fellow men is well conveyed by Davies who creates an unsettling atmosphere from the start. It is also a perfectly judged production from the opening on a sunny Sunday morning with the casual chit-chat hardly preparing us for the blaze of recriminations, remorse and suicide that follow.

William Dudley’s marvellously realistic garden design, with real grass and fronds of willows, in which the action is set, makes us feel we are actually in the Keller household and witness to the events that unfold.

But it is the terrific central performances by David Suchet, veering between charm and desperation as Joe Keller, a man who places duty to his family above the lives of to others, and Zoe Wanamaker as his wife Kate, party to his deception and alternating superbly between vulnerability and flintiness as she desperately tries to hold the family together, clinging to the hope that their missing son will return, that really bring this engrossing drama so blazingly to life. Strong support is provided by Stephen Campbell Moore as Chris, their only surviving son, Jemima Rooper as their dead son’s fiancé’ with whom Chris has fallen in love, and Daniel Lapaine as her angry brother George, bent on revenge.

A stunning evening in the theatre which certainly lights up the West End.

By Laurence Green

Where: Apollo Theatre

Box office: 0844 412 4658

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