All My Sons
Rose Theatre, Kingston
Rose Theatre, Kingston
Arthur Miller’s play All My Sons opens with neighbours sitting in the yard of the Keller house, chatting amiably about the weather and the newspapers. The conversation is warm and amusing.
This is a picture of a comfortable and contented 1940s America a few years after the traumas of the Second World War. Not that the war was bad for business. It was highly profitable for Joe Keller’s (David Horovitch) company which expanded as it provided parts for the military. A visitor recalling how small it once was says, "I saw your factory on the way from the station. It looks like General Motors."
It grew despite the war-time scandal of shipping cracked cylinder heads to the air force which killed twenty-one pilots. Joe’s partner Steve was convicted of the crime and sent to jail even though he claimed he was following Joe’s orders in covering up the cracks.
The hidden tensions about those events are to create a crisis when Steve’s daughter Ann (Francesca Zoutewelle) arrives with the intention of marrying Joe’s son Chris (Alex Waldmann).
Most productions make Joe the central character, filling the stage with his presence from his early avuncular good humour to his later defensive meanness. It can easily overshadow the extent to which other characters are complicit in what happens.
The director Michael Rudman shifts the focus, giving us a mild-mannered Joe Keller and emphasising the importance of Chris and the different ways the other characters are complicit in the scandal.
Alex Waldmann gives a remarkably strong and nuanced performance as Chris, struggling between his loyalty to Joe and his increasing certainty that Joe is getting away with causing the death of men who were fighting for their country. There is a moment when Alex takes a dramatic risk in physically assaulting Joe which strikingly illustrates this personal conflict and carries a huge shock for the audience. Had someone described this moment to me before I saw it, I would have said it wouldn’t work, but it does.
This shift of focus takes place with other characters. When in act two the neighbour Sue, played impressively by Alison Pargeter, criticises to Ann the difference between the public appearance of the Kellers as the "Holy Family" and the reality of the way their money was gained, we are made to sympathise with Sue and recognise the raw nerve it touches in Ann.
This is a very moving production that never loses sight of the way the ties of family and friends can bind us to a system that blights the lives of everybody. By the end, the woman sitting along from me in the audience was sobbing, and a group of us spent hours afterwards talking about what we had seen.
Chris says, "this is the land of the great big dogs, you don't love a man here, you eat him! That's the principle; the only one we live by... it just happened to kill a few people this time, that's all. The world's that way."
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna