Arthur Miller wrote All My Sons in 1947 after his failed play The Man Who Had All The Luck bombed after only four performances. This, for him, was a ‘final’ attempt at writing a commercially successful play. If it failed he vowed to find some other line of work should his All My Sons not find an audience.
As theatre history shows it turned out to be successful yet, like his later play The Crucible it caused much controversy and political endangerment for Miller during the McCarthy Anti- Communist years. This was because of one main theme – a deep criticism of the capitalist American Dream. The undercurrents of corruption, deception, neglect and criminal lies throughout the story of the Keller family added fuel to the fire of American idealism and purist disillusionment.
As a modern day viewer we need to be reminded that at the original time of writing and producing this play, the Second World War, to which the story hangs dramatically, was only over by a few years. American and world emotions and sentiments were raw in the extreme.
The Nottingham Playhouse presentation is sublimely directed by Fiona Buffini and a slow burning firecracker of a production, both faultless in its naturalistic acting and, creatively brilliant in its design by designer Dorrie Scott. The sound of warplanes roaring periodically overhead hint at storms to come in the ever darkening skies of Miller’s classic tale.
The story unfolds thus: The Second World War ended three years prior to the start of the play. It is August 1947. An apple tree has been severely damaged and uprooted in the garden of the Keller family due to a storm the night before. Historically, the father Joe Keller (Sean Chapman) was exonerated after being charged with knowingly shipping damaged aircraft engine cylinder heads for Curtis P.40 Warhawks from his factory during WW2 thereby causing the death of twenty-one pilots.
For three and a half years he placed the blame on his business partner Steve Deever – who now resides in jail. Mr Keller justifies his actions by saying he did it for his family. His wife Kate Keller (Caroline Loncq) knows he is guilty but lives in denial whilst mourning her older son Larry who has been missing in action for three years. She is ever hopeful of his return to the point of parental paranoia.
The mother maintains that visiting Ann Deever (Eva Jane-Willis) is still Larry’s girl even though the other son, the disillusioned Chris Keller (Cary Crankson) is proposing to Ann causing shock in the Keller family. There is still the slight possibility that Larry may return and this situation is the dramatic obstacle that forms the backbone of the play. Additionally, Chris idealises his father Joe. We start to perceive this as a sad delusion, a delusion that may soon some show signs of breaking up the family unit.
George Deever, (Ben Lee) is Ann’s older brother and a successful New York lawyer and WW2 veteran. In visiting his father Steve in jail he realises that his dad is innocent of his crimes and becomes enraged at the Keller’s for deceiving him.
Doctor Jim Bayliss (Kammy Darweish) is close to the Keller family and we recognise in his brief visit that he spends his working life in frustration and yearns to work in medical research. He is forced to stay in his job to pay the bills and blames Chris Keller for suggesting life options that are financially impractical.
All these individual tensions add much to the three act play’s dramatic points and counter points. These are exacerbated by the secretly resentful Sue Bayliss (Shauna Shim) wife of Jim. In the scene in which she confronts Ann Keller in a volatile manner is one that reveals that ‘all’ the neighbours think Joe Keller is guilty thus starting the steady decline of the Keller family and their reputations in their society.
The light hearted Lubey couple, local amateur astrologer Frank Lubey (Frank Osborne) and Lydia Lubey (Sasha Frost) give the drama another set of temperatures especially when Frank has a prediction which makes the revealing of a key letter later in the play the catalyst of the drama’s denouement.
This production has subtle elements of Greek tragedy running through it. They course so finely within the two hours playing that when the end comes it is as profound as if it has happened in your own family. Such is the power of this classic piece of drama from master playwright Arthur Miller and its depiction by this superbly naturalistic cast at Nottingham Playhouse.
Very highly recommended.
All My Sons runs until Sat 21st Oct 2017
Reviewer: Phil Lowe