Arthur Miller's All My Sons impresses with family secrets, tragedy and denial
Walkin’ down the street that day I was as guilty as hell. Except I wasn’t, and there was a court paper in my pocket to prove I wasn’t — Fourteen months later I had one of the best shops in the state again, a respected man again; bigger than ever.“
Although it was only Arthur Miller’s second play, All My Sons has all the intensity of a play by Chekhov. Actually what Miller was trying to achieve was for an Ibsen-like feel.
Set in an American town in the 1940s, the play looks at the conflict between the pressure to make money and ethics or personal responsibility. The cupboards are full of metaphorical skeletons. Director Howard Davies, who two years ago directed the acclaimed production of The Iceman Cometh in London and on Broadway, has revived Miller’s play in a tense and exciting production.
Joe Keller was involved in a scandal whereby aircraft parts were patched up and passed as fit for use when they were patently faulty and, in a kind of karmic revenge, the Kellers’ eldest son has gone missing whilst flying abroad. Kate Keller, Joe’s wife is in denial, she refuses to believe that her son will not be found alive. The catalyst to bring these issues to a head is Annie, their missing son’s fiancée who, after Larry’s disappearance, has formed an attachment to the Kellers’ remaining son Chris.
The director has added an opening scene (described in the text) to Miller’s play in which the insomniac Kate Keller (Julie Walters) is seen roaming at night in the garden in a storm. Lightning fells an apple tree, a tree planted for their missing son. It is a haunting beginning and under Davies’ direction helps us to empathise with this woman and to understand why she refuses to give up hope that her son is still alive even though we don’t for one moment believe that he will actually return.
Julie Walters’ excels as Kate Keller, a matriarch, mother not just to her own children but to the neighbouring children as well. Slightly hunched over, she is as tight as a wire – crusading, insensitive and almost malicious in her insistence on her son being alive. Tall, blonde Ben Daniels is a gentle Chris, flawed by his idealism and his implicit belief in his father. James Hazeldine as Joe Keller conveys an ease in burying his guilt. It is a particular pleasure to watch the interaction between Catherine McCormack as Annie and Kate who should have been her mother in law.
William Dudley’s magnificent set in the tiny Cottesloe has the façade, terrace and garden of a substantial American wooden house. The poplars described in Miller’s script are implied by hanging greenery that enclose the garden.
From this early example of Miller’s work to his latest play, Mr Peter’s Connection, being staged by the Almeida later this month (2000), London theatregoers will have an opportunity to assess Miller’s substantial contribution to theatre.
All My Sons
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Howard Davies
Rory Copus/Aaron Johnson
Director: Howard Davies
Designer: William Dudley
Lighting Designer: Mark Henerson
Sound Designer: Paul Groothuis
Running Time: Two hours 20 minutes with one interval
Closed at the Cottesloe on 18th October 2000
London SE1 9PX
Phone: 020 7359 4404
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Cottesloe on 13th July 2000