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All My Sons

Arthur Miller
Queens Theatre, Hornchurch
New Wolsey, Ipswich

All My Sons poster Credit: Queens Theatre, Hornchurch
Joe & Kate - All My Sons Credit: Queens Theatre, Hornchurch
Cast of All My Sons Credit: Queens Theatre, Hornchurch

A family and a neighbourhood torn apart by war. Young people whose lives and aspirations have been changed forever. Mothers waiting for lost sons, fathers doing underhand deeds just to survive.

Never has Arthur Miller's powerful play seemed more relevant than in our now-fractured world.

And this is a powerful production of it—emotionally visceral; it retains the setting and the time period yet lays bare the heart-rending struggle of each character in turn so that by the end we feel we have gone the journey with them.

Directed by Douglas Rintoul, who is about to take the reins of running the New Wolsey Theatre from long-term incumbents Sarah Holmes and Peter Rowe, the stage setting is the yard of a nice house in small-town America at the end of the Second World War. There’s been a storm the night before which has snapped the trunk of a memorial tree to the Keller’s lost son, pilot Larry, who has been ‘missing in action’ for three years.

The play, based on the true story of defective engine parts covered up by a factory owner causing the death of 21 pilots, centres on how the fallout from this tragedy, coupled with Larry’s unknown demise, has affected each member of what seems on the surface a normal family. Joe the Father—a strong central performance by David Hounslow—seems to have come to terms with it, but he is hiding a desperate secret. Kate the Mother, played with a mixture of steel and vulnerability by Eve Matheson, like all mothers won’t let go of the hope her beloved son is still alive. Chris, the other son (Oliver Hembrough), lives in the shadow of his brother’s legacy. Ann (a beautifully balanced portrayal by Kibong Tanji), the erstwhile sweetheart of Larry and the daughter of Joe’s disgraced business partner Steve, cannot escape the clutches of his memory or her father’s shame.

The first act is a little slow to get going, taking a short while to find its feet as we meet the neighbours—the doctor and his bossy wife, the fussy couple on the other side of the fence—and get introduced to the characters.

But very soon we are deep in the emotional rollercoaster of lies, bitterness and corruption that have blighted the Kellers and continue to do so.

And when Ann’s brother George is added to the mix (a highly strung performance by Nathan Ives–Moiba), he is the torch that lights the blue touch-paper and brings everybody’s world crashing down.

The lighting is simple but effective, occasional use of video projection adds to the atmosphere and the costumes set us immediately in the time period.

A moving production of a brilliantly written play that will stay with me for some time.

I urge you not to miss it.

Reviewer: Suzanne Hawkes