All My Sons
Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company
The first thing you see on entering the Nottingham Playhouse auditorium before All My Sons begins is a lopsided apple tree, a victim of a storm the night before the action starts. It’s a spectacular vision, the right-hand side of the stage curling upwards to reveal the tree’s roots and presenting a constant reminder that something is inherently wrong in this neighbourhood.
Once the play gets under way, it’s clear that Dorrie Scott’s design is not the only remarkable quality about Arthur Miller’s work which is generally accepted as a 20th century masterpiece.
Some people might think it’s almost impossible to come up with a bad version of All My Sons because the play is so powerful and poignant. But Fiona Buffini produces a memorable evening which is full of quality and deft touches.
The first is the tree which is a contrast to the tidy yard of the Keller family and shows that, while everything on the surface may appear fine, underneath everything is a tangled chaos.
Buffini takes the view that the play is not just about the head of the family Joe Keller but is more of an ensemble piece. Sean Chapman gives a composed and somewhat understated portrayal of Joe so that he doesn’t dominate the action but nevertheless is an integral part.
There are strong performances from many of the rest of the cast, in particular Caroline Loncq as Joe’s wife Kate whose unexpected acerbity is unsettling.
All My Sons is the story of Joe and Kate who live comfortable lives with their son Chris. The Kellers’ other son Larry went missing in World War II three years previously. Kate steadfastly believes he will be found alive but Chris wants her to accept that he won’t be returning—especially as he wants to marry Ann Deever, Larry’s former fiancée.
Ann’s father Steve used to be Joe’s partner in a business which supplied aeroplane parts to the military. Steve patched up a batch of defective parts and sent them out. As a result, 21 pilots died. It’s never totally clear whether Larry was one of them. Steve went to prison; Joe was exonerated and his business grew considerably.
When Ann’s brother George arrives after visiting his father in prison for the first time, he is determined that Ann should not marry Chris “because his father destroyed your family”.
Buffini racks up the tension considerably as Chris tells his father he should do the right thing and accept responsibility for the failure of the planes. The dénouement is chilling and unanticipated if you are seeing the play for the first time.
Virtually all the cast give flawless performances. Cary Crankson is exceptional as Chris, the cheerful son who eventually has to confront his fears about his father’s part in the aeroplane parts catastrophe.
Eva-Jane Willis is equally impressive as Ann, the strong young woman who knows what she wants and is determined to get it, even if it means taking on her blinkered future mother-in-law.
Ben Lee makes an immediate impact as the angry but easily manipulated George and Patrick Osborne adds a touch of frivolity as Frank Lubey, the man preparing an astrology chart about Larry who says he wouldn’t have died on his “favourable” day.
There is excellent support from Sasha Frost as Frank’s wife Lydia; Kammy Darweish as neighbour Dr Jim Bayliss who knows about Joe’s involvement in the parts scandal but says nothing about it; and Shauna Shim as Jim’s wife Sue who merely wants a comfortable existence.
Overall, All My Sons is a sparkling, challenging, inventive production that mirrors Miller’s genius.
Reviewer: Steve Orme