Watermill Theatre - All My Sons
20th February to 22nd March 2014.
Review from Newbury Theatre.
OK, it’s Arthur Miller so we’re not expecting a load of laughs, but it has to be said that All My Sons is unremittingly bleak. Joe and his wife Kate have two sons, Chris and Larry. It’s just after the end of the Second World War and Larry, a pilot, was missing in action. After three years, Kate still hasn’t come to terms with this, and clings on to the hope that he is still alive. As the story unfolds, we discover that Joe is a factory owner who made aero engine parts in the war, and after some faulty cylinder heads were sent out and 21 planes crashed Joe and one of his workers, Steve, were accused of murder; Joe was acquitted and Steve convicted, and he is still in jail. The main interactions of the play are between Joe, Kate, Chris and Steve’s daughter Ann.
The set, designed by Hayley Grindle, is the veranda and garden of Joe and Kate’s house, with its fence and vegetation extending into the auditorium.
The play is about honesty, duty and family values. Joe (Michael Thomas) is the confident, smooth talking boss who is a convincing liar (as when telling a neighbour’s son – a nice performance from schoolboy George McBratney, with a good American accent – about the imaginary jail in the basement), and to Joe nothing is bigger than the family. Jessica Turner is excellent as Kate, holding fast to her beliefs in the face of increasing opposition (or does she know all along that it’s a lost cause?).
As Chris, Adam Burton has a central role as the intermediary between the others. Although personable and persuasive (and the only one who’s really honest with himself and others), it isn’t clear how he can have had such a dominating effect over neighbour Jim (Paul Brendan). Ann (Siobhan O’Kelly) comes across as rather neurotic and (not surprisingly) confused by the increasingly complex situation.
The play’s success depends on the performances of these four characters, and succeed it does, with very strong performances – I was mesmerised. Director Douglas Rintoul (who also directed Of Mice and Men at the Watermill in 2012) also has a strong supporting cast; this production is highly recommended.
Review from the British Theatre Guide and the Newbury Weekly News.
Tensions run high in Arthur Miller classic at the Watermill
All My Sons at the Watermill, Bagnor, until March 22
Arthur Miller’s iconic yet disturbing play All My Sons was written in 1947 and is as relevant today as when it was first performed, with its themes of family values, social responsibility and profiteering from the supply of armaments.
The action of the play takes place in the back yard of the Keller household on a beautifully designed set by Hayley Grindle, subtly lit by Joshua Carr.
Michael Thomas is outstanding as Joe Keller, a highly successful, self-made businessman, a patriarch who has dedicated his life to his family, living the American Dream.
His engineering company made engines for P-40 fighter planes during World War II but Joe hides a dark and sinister secret. Moreover his business partner Steve Deever has been imprisoned for allowing faulty cylinder heads to be fitted to the planes, which resulted in 21 crashing with the loss of many lives.
Jessica Turner gives a splendid performance as the devoted, scheming wife Katy who refuses to believe that their older son Larry, who has been posted as ‘missing in action’ for the past three years, is indeed dead.
The arrival of Larry’s former girlfriend Ann Deever, delightfully portrayed by Siobhan O’Kelly, throws the family into chaos, particularly when the younger remaining son Chris, powerfully and stridently played by Adam Burton, proposes to marry Ann, much to Katy’s consternation.
Living next door in this close-knit community is Frank Lubey (Neil Ditt) who is preparing Larry’s horoscope and discovers that the day he was reported missing was his 'favourable day' so he can’t be dead. His wife Lydia (Lizzie Lewis) is a fun-loving mother of three.
On the other side of the yard lives successful but disillusioned Dr Jim Bayliss (Paul Brendan) and his wife Sue (Pascale Burgess) but their marriage is unstable and she believes that Joe was also responsible for the faulty parts and is guilty.
The part of young Bert, played on the press night by George McBratney, who frequently visits Joe to play 'jail' raises a heated angry discussion with Katy. The family situation is beginning to crumble.
When Ann’s brother George (Thomas Padden) arrives after visiting his father in jail, he reveals that Joe was equally as guilty for sending out the faulty parts and insists that Ann should leave immediately.
Tensions run high and when Ann discloses the content of a letter sent from Larry revealing heart-wrenching evidence of Larry’s death. The truth is finally exposed with tragic catastrophic consequences.
Deftly directed by Douglas Rintoul, this timeless classic is a highly accomplished production and is thoroughly recommended.
Review from The Daily Telegraph.
In his autobiography, Timebends, Arthur Miller offered up a defence for what he describes as a “recurring criticism” of All My Sons, his 1947 breakthrough play, the charge being that it is “overly plotted, to the point of implausible coincidence”.
For the piece to acquire its shattering momentum, certain withheld things have to be revealed at just the right time. The final and most crucial of these is a letter written by Larry, the wartime air-force pilot whose missing-in-action absence casts a pervasive, paralysing shadow of suspended grief over his family, the Kellers.
Miller argues that the letter’s sudden production grows out of character not chance, writing: “Whenever the hand of the distant past reaches out of its grave, it is always somehow absurd as well as amazing, and we tend to resist belief in it, for it seems rather magically to reveal some unreadable hidden order behind the amoral chaos of events as we rationally perceive them.”
On a theoretical level, maybe, that holds good – but in simple theatrical terms, it’s very hard not to notice the clunking fist of the obvious dramatic imperative. What swings it for Miller is that the “sins-of-the-father” moral of his story strikes us as so essentially true that we choose to overlook the artifice with which he tells it.
Although other, better revivals have struck home harder, Douglas Rintoul’s compact account at the Watermill still feels worthwhile. As ever we’re confronted with shaming thoughts of “all our sons”: all the boys called up to do their patriotic duty who get betrayed by quick-buck business interests. In this case it’s the provincial firm Joe Keller continues to run while his meek deputy languishes in jail, having taken the rap for shipping out faulty cylinder-heads that resulted in the deaths of 21 airmen.
Accent wobbles aside, Michael Thomas makes for a compellingly shifty patriarch, moving slowly as if wired to a detonator, while Jessica Turner nicely brings out his wife Kate’s oddly life-denying refusal to give up hope of Larry's return. The supporting performances, though, strike me as more accomplished. There’s fine work from Adam Burton as the sidelined surviving son Chris, Siobhan O’Kelly as Larry’s sympathetic but newly realistic sweetheart Ann, and Thomas Padden as her brother George, seething on behalf of their imprisoned dad. Together they suggest a younger generation finally plucking up the courage to say “enough is enough” – and wresting shreds of dignity from the jaws of disgrace.
There are reviews from The Stage ("beautifully crafted performances"), the Oxford Times ("the ten-strong cast is uniformly superb"), Daily Info ("there are so many finely nuanced performances in this riveting production; almost every cast member deserves special mention... superb production") and The Good Review ("absorbs, entertains and moves" - five stars).