Photo by Nobby Clarke
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Review by Peter Brown
1 June 2010
Premièred in 1947 and subsequently turned into two films, 'All My Sons' won a Tony and New York Critics' Circle awards for its author, Arthur Miller, and is a recognised modern classic. Well, modern if being a sixty-five year old still counts as such. However you prefer to categorise these things, what is certain is that the themes the play explores are still highly relevant both on an individual and societal level.
It's been some time since I last saw 'All My Sons', and I wondered whether it may have lost some of its lustre. But not so, and the main reason for this is that Arthur Miller plotted the play brilliantly so that there is never any doubt that the train of events in the play have only one possible outcome.
Two great symbols of American society – business and family – are at the core of 'All My Sons' and embodied in the Keller family. Joe Keller is a successful businessman who harbours a guilty secret. One of his sons, Larry, has been missing in action for three years, and his mother, Kate, wants to believe that her son will still be found one day, or will walk back into her life out of the blue. She refuses to allow any of her family to believe that Larry is dead. However, Kate and Joe's other son, Chris, is intent on marrying his brother's former girlfriend, Ann. If Chris marries Ann then Kate has to admit that Larry is really dead, and that in turn would mean her relationship with her husband would also be at risk.
Though it's by no means a simplistic plot, it's an easy one to follow so long as you can keep your brain in gear after a long day at work. What will certainly help are the exceptionally fine performances on offer. The formidable power of David Suchet – best known to many as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot – is brought to bear in the lead as Joe Keller. Suchet really is a powerhouse of an actor, but its controlled power which never overwhelms the other actors. Suchet's Keller is an entrepreneurial charmer, the kind of man who suits suits, but still chats amiably with his neighbours. But underneath the confident exterior lies a man who's ill at ease when the going gets tough. When confronted by his son Chris (excellently played by Stephen Campbell Moore) Suchet's Joe cowers like a frightened rabbit.
Also on tremendous form is Zoë Wanamaker as Joe's wife, Kate. Her role is an extremely complex one because she has to function on several different levels. First she has to convince as a wife, mother and neighbour, but she also has to believe that her son Larry is still alive because on that hinges her relationship with her husband and, indeed, Joe's very existence. Ms Wanamaker weaves these layers together quite brilliantly.
The support from the remainder of the cast is superb - some of the best you're likely to see. Stephen Campbell Moore is the Keller's son, Chris, determined to settle down with a woman he loves, but also harbouring the knowledge that his father is guilty of a serious crime. His counterpart, Daniel Lapaine as George Deever, is the son of Joe's business partner sent to prison for selling faulty parts to the military during World War II. There's an electric and fiery clash between the two sons in the second act which is actually mesmerising in its intensity – terrific acting!
What the popular press had to say...
"It is time to bring out the superlatives. Not only is the acting tremendous and every visual detail precise, Davies also makes you realise Miller's play is a portrait of a society as well as of a flawed individual."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"It is as potent a production of Miller's work as one could hope to see."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
"Howard Davies's handsome if sedate production has great clarity, bringing out Miller's arguments and anxieties about the essential selfishness of the capitalist system but it lacks the degree of emotion that should bring an audience crashing to the ground with each revelation."
Neil Norman for The Express
"This is a play of extraordinary power and emotional depth, and when it is performed as wonderfully as it is here, Miller’s theme of man’s responsibility towards his fellow men feels genuinely noble rather than merely didactic...This is a stunning production of a modern classic and one that those who see it will never forget."
Charles Spencer for Daily Telegraph
"Gripping, strongly cast revival."
John Thaxter for The Stage
"Miller's Ibsenite plot occasionally creaks and is marred by certain implausibilities; but while it lasts, you are swept up by the production's splendid self-conviction."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"Along with some excellent acting, we can admire all over again the way in which this family drama also perfectly illustrates how man’s responsibility to his fellow man goes way beyond his family and the domestic economy."
Christopher Hart for The Times
External links to full reviews from popular press
Guardian - Telegraph - Express - The Independent - The Times