Review - All My Sons starring Sally Field and Bill Pullman at the Old Vic
In the latest flurry of classic American plays being revived in London, Jeremy Herrin’s production of All My Sons opens the night after the play also opened on Broadway. It could be a mere coincidence, but at a time where fact is meaningless and people tell themselves what they want to believe, it demonstrates the consequences of pulling the wool over your eyes. A lesson fitting on both sides of the Atlantic, and here, Sally Field and Bill Pullman deliver it captivatingly.
It centres on the decision of Joe Keller, whose business shipped out faulty airplane parts during the war, but was exonerated at the expense of a business partner. Meanwhile, Joe’s wife Kate has lived the past two and a half years waiting for her son Larry, who went MIA on the frontline to return home.
At first, Field’s Kate is painfully whimsical about believing Larry is alive. Unable to take onboard any rationale her son Chris has to offer: that his brother isn’t coming back. She believes in fate, messages from beyond, anything that will convince her that her son is still alive.
Miller’s text takes off after a relatively pedestrian first hour. Herrin ensures, like other American front-porch dramas (a la Long Day’s Journey Into Night), that it’s just about the conversations between the family. There isn’t much tension, but the drama culminates in the subtle flick of a light (which sends some of the Old Vic patrons who already know the play into a pitying sigh).
What is lost a little on a British audience is the play’s take of the ‘American Dream’: as a businessman with family in mind, he did the right thing ordering the parts to be sent out. On the other hand, he is the catalyst in a chain reaction that ends in military casualties. Miller appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee because of this play, but while it provides great drama, perhaps Keller’s motivations and justifications don’t quite resonate.
Field and Pullman both bring a real sense of authenticity to their parts. Pullman is the burly, slurry proud Southerner, while it’s genuinely a little worrying how Field’s Kate is living in the past. Her troubling shakes as she worries about her son transform into beaming smiles and nostalgic tears as her sons’ friends visit from afar. The pair are pulsating at times, especially Field, who you can hardly take your eyes off.
As Chris, Colin Morgan transforms, too. From the sprightly boy convincing his parents to bless his marriage to Ann – Larry’s widowed girlfriend – and bring his family together, to the blubbering madman baying for answers from his secretive family. He is superb, as he plays the cool son demanding answers, to a vulture circling the garden in anger, while Jenna Coleman mixes sensibility and exasperation to Ann.
Death of a Salesman is about to open down The Cut at the Old Vic’s younger theatre cousin the Young Vic, which concludes a number of Arthur Miller plays in London in quick succession. But this production goes to show how relevant, timely and entertaining his canon remains.
All My Sons tickets are available now.
"This devastating play [...] remains a piercing attack on greedy individualism, as well as a moving portrait of a family haunted by a single ugly episode in their past"
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard (★★★★☆)
"Bill Pullman's Joe is a man with a face carved from pure, honest-day’s-pay-for-an-honest-day’s-work America. An alpha male who doesn’t shout about it."
Dominic Maxwell, The Times (★★★★☆)
"When star casting pays off as handsomely as this it’s a thrill to watch. Although it seems to be almost by stealth that Hollywood veterans Bill Pullman and Sally Field, creep up and grab the audience by the jugular in Jeremy Herrin’s excellent production of Arthur Miller’s first masterpiece."
Serena Davies, The Telegraph (★★★★★)
"At the outset of this assured new production at the Old Vic, a large house slides forward from the back of the stage. It’s as dynamic as the staging gets. The script doesn’t offer much in the way of set changes or stage directions, so the cast must do all the lifting."
Ed Cumming, Independent (★★★☆☆)