All My Sons
Library Theatre, Manchester
The subject matter of this play may have a topical ring about it, as it discusses issues of faulty equipment supplied to troops in wartime that could have resulted in their deaths. In this case it involves an incident during the Second World War (the play is set in August 1947) in which a company knowingly supplied defective parts to the military in order to fulfil a contract, that were subsequently fitted into aircraft and caused the loss of the planes and their crew. One of the partners in the company was sent to gaol for several years, whilst the other went on to build up a successful business during peacetime. The question hanging over the play is whether the one who stayed out of prison - Joe Keller, the father of the sons of the title - had more involvement than came out in the original court case.
Like many twentieth century American plays, the issues come out as an apparently happy family starts to tear itself apart with arguments and accusations. There are elements of this play that seem quite Chekhovian, from the issues of family and ties to property and location, the setting in the garden of a prosperous house and the large cast of family, neighbours and friends, to the melodramatic ending reminiscent of some early Chekhov.
Unfortunately this production seems to have been put together in a rather slapdash manner. The younger members of the company give the best performances, in particular a strong performance from Jamie Lee as Keller's son Chris and some good support from Sally Bretton, as his fiancée Ann, and Scot Williams as her brother George. The rest of the company often seem at a loss for what to do with themselves when they are not speaking; as many of them give fine performances at specific moments, this could possibly be explained by under-rehearsal rather than any deficiencies in their abilities.
Judith Croft's set works well, showing us the whole of the rear of the house, complete with lights in the upstairs bedroom windows at night, and the garden where the play takes place. However it seems that lighting designer Nick Richings could not find enough lights to light it, as a large part of the realistically realised roof remains dark even in the daytime scenes.
Back to the Chekhov theme, sound designer Paul Gregory has used the sorts of sound effects in the background that Chekhov found so irritating in Stanislavski's productions of his plays. Some of these worked in setting the atmosphere, but others were not as subtle as they could be, especially the crickets that ended abruptly soon after the start of a scene.
The Library does an excellent job of reviving classic modern plays that are not produced as often as perhaps they should be. It should also be congratulated on managing to produce a play with a cast of ten in a small provincial theatre. Perhaps this great expense on actors has necessitated cuts in rehearsals, which would explain the unevenness of the production and its failure to get across the complexity and subtlety of this play.
"All My Sons" runs until 13th March 2004
Reviewer: David Chadderton