The Royal National theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons”, which had an award winning run at the Cottesloe last year, has returned to the National, but this time to the larger Lyttelton stage. Once again, Howard Davies, who won the 2001 Olivier Award for Best Director, directs it. I didn’t see the production last year so I cannot compare, but what I can say is that this production is well deserved of its praise. It is an engrossing and deep drama that is performed by an exceptional cast.
The story concerns Joe Keller who is alleged to have supplied World War II fighter planes with defective engines, leading to the deaths of innocent pilots. However, the courts exonerated him and instead his plant manager was found guilty. Also, one of Keller's sons, Larry, himself a pilot, is thought to have been killed in action. But his mother, Kate, can't accept his death and has become obsessed with keeping up hope he is still alive even though over 3 years have since past. However, confrontations ensue and shameful secrets are unravelled when her dead son's fiancée, Ann, wishes to marry her other son, Chris.
As soon as you enter the Lyttelton auditorium you can absorb the atmosphere with a magnificent set design by William Dudley, who won the 2001 Olivier Award for Best Designer, and you can see why! It is set in the back garden of a large wooden house with hanging willows all around, along with a lawn and garden chairs. You feel you are in the garden yourself, which was quite nice, as it felt very cool and refreshing on this warm summer evening!
Arthur Miller is adept at building tension and absorbing the audience into the story and ultimately to its captivating climax. You cannot fail to be emotionally drained at the end of the play. This is powerful and intelligent writing that is perfect for the stage. It’s productions like this that remind me why I enjoy the theatre so much!
Laurie Metcalf (best known as Jackie on TV’s ‘Roseanne’), now plays Kate, the mother. (Julie Walters played the part last year). Again, I cannot compare the two, but what I can say is that Metcalf produced a faultless performance capturing the anxiety and pressure of a mother who has lost a son, but is also hiding a dark secret to keep the rest of the family together. Laurie Metcalf is a founder member of ‘Steppenwolf Theatre’ in Chicago, which celebrated its 25th season this year, so she has a good stage pedigree and it certainly comes into fruition in this play. There is also a terrific performance from Ben Daniels as ‘Chris’ who is utterly convincing. Daniels’ won the 2001 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actor, however, James Hazeldine, as ‘Joe’ is the most outstanding and I feel should have won an award. The way he transforms his character from a seemingly confident happy man to a vulnerable guilt-ridden one is astonishing.
The popular press still like the production...... IAN JOHNS for THE TIMES says, "All My Sons returns to the National with passion." DOMINIC CAVENDISH for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "I'm happy to report that, reblocked and partially recast, the production has survived the move to the Lyttelton and is, if anything, all the better for it." RACHEL HALLIBURTON for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Davies' production reveals the brilliance of Miller's analysis of the way social illusion functioned in the post-war years." SIMON EDGE for THE DAILY EXPRESS says, "Angst-ridden family drama, all private torment and public conflict, may not be everybody's cup of iced tea, but if it's yours, you won't see it done better."
“All My Sons” is a masterpiece that is not to be missed.