Arthur Miller's play All My Sons written in 1947, seems as fresh as ever with Sally Field and Bill Pullman playing the family with a dark secret . . .
“You marry the girl and you’re pronouncing him dead“
Joe Keller to his son Chris
I think this is the fourth time I have seen Arthur Miller’s play All My Sons and although I have seen other very good productions, this is the best for the magnificent acting of Bill Pullman as the engineering firm chief, Joe Keller, Sally Field as his wife Kate and Colin Morgan as their son Chris. It is a difficult play to write about without the big reveal which would spoil the play for anyone seeing it for the first time.
Max Jones’s set is perfect, a New England boarded house painted pale green with trees to the side, grass and a picket fence. Front of stage right is an apple tree, broken by the gales the night before and, even if you don’t know the play, you will feel its symbolic portent. We are told that Miller wanted to write a play like Ibsen did, with the secrets of the past impacting on the present but All My Sons feels more like a Chekhov but only superficially as none of the cast sit around feeling the boredom of life in the country.
Chris Keller (Colin Morgan) lives at home and works for his father’s firm. Coming to stay for a short while is the daughter of their erstwhile neighbour and Colin’s childhood friend Ann Deever (Jenna Coleman). Ann was engaged to Chris’s younger brother Larry, a USAF pilot who has been missing for three years presumed dead.
Bill Pullman as Joe Keller is charming and charismatic, seemingly a decade younger than his wife Kate who has been in ill health. Kate is in denial about her younger son’s “missing in action” status, something everyone can relate to who has the hope and lack of closure on a missing relative. Later we see Joe get more edgy as uncomfortable truths are disclosed and his affable front drops. Sally Field too is very impressive as the mother who steelily denies her son’s death.
Jeremy Herrin’s production has no flashy tricks or exaggerated slants and is all the stronger for it. The three act play does only have one interval here. Of course Miller’s second play is constructed very well and just needs a talented director and great performances. Colin Morgan who is normally tousled and unshaven, as Chris is clean cut with short hair to convey a conventional man who has been to war and come home with psychological damage. We feel Chris’s lack of confidence; perhaps he was overshadowed by Larry, the missing brother.
I felt that while she is obviously very pretty, as the script calls for, Jenna Coleman who is making her stage debut here after much television and some film roles, as Ann Deever does not have the gravitas to keep the secret nor the judgement to do anything but blame her own father. Her American accent too wavers through the regions. It is likely that she will improve during the run.
Despite the disappointment with Ann Deever, the Keller family here are very strong and it is heart breaking to watch the terrible outcome for Joe Keller and Kate. This is one of Arthur Miller’s best plays about the loss of the American Dream. Miss it at your peril!
This production of All My Sons will be broadcast live to cinemas on 14th May (2019) under the NTLive programme.
All My Sons
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Jeremy Herrin
Archie Barnes/Hari Coles/Alfie Todd
Director: Jeremy Herrin
Designer: Max Jones
Lighting Designer: Richard Howell
Sound Designer: Carolyn Dowling
Video: Duncam McLean
A Headlong and Old Vic Production
Running Time: Two hours 35 minutes with one interval
Closed at the Old Vic on 8th June 2019
but may be available on NT Live
The Old Vic
London SE1 8NB
Website: The Old Vic http://oldvictheatre.com
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Old Vic
on 24th April 2019