Belief looms large in Arthur Miller’s work; whether it’s finding a cause (The American Clock) or a question of religion (The Crucible), it’s surprising how much it crops up. In All My Sons it’s Kate Keller’s unflinching faith that her eldest son Larry, who has been missing (presumed dead) for three years, is in fact still alive and could walk through the door at any given time. The American Dream also comes under scrutiny – while Joe Keller has spent the years building up his business and accruing wealth, his other son Chris has returned from the war with survivor’s guilt, though still idolises his father. Sally Field, Bill Pullman, Colin Morgan and Jenna Coleman lead the cast of this latest production from the Old Vic.
All My Sons is set in the aftermath of World War Two, as America seeks a return to normality. Joe & Chris Keller are ready to move on – though neither can face telling Kate, as she clings to her belief that Larry will return and things will go back to the way they were – with Chris even inviting Ann Deever back to the neighbourhood to stay in the family home, hoping to propose to her. The only problem is that Ann was Larry’s childhood sweetheart, so the chances of Kate accepting this budding relationship are incredibly slim, as this (to her) would be to also accept that Larry is dead. But something more sinister also ties the Deevers and Kellers together: Joe ran his business with Steve Deever (Ann’s father) during the war, and the latter ended up being imprisoned for the manufacture & shipment of faulty aircraft engines, leading Ann & her brother George to shun him. Joe was also accused, but quickly exonerated – however, when George also makes an appearance, the Kellers brace themselves for trouble…
The first thing I absolutely have to mention is the set. Max Jones has created the archetypal ‘American Dream’ home, with a beautiful house and a backyard filled with greenery & lovely furniture. It fills the expanse of the Old Vic stage, practically spilling out into the seating area; you can easily imagine the whole world of the play in there, with the Lubeys on one side and the Bayliss’ house on the other, living in each other’s pockets. This – along with Carolyn Downing’s subtle sound design – ensures that you are with the characters every step of the way, invited into their world to see the drama play out.
Miller’s relevance shows no signs of abating, here showing the ripple effects of war as well as the seismic power of corruption & dishonesty; none of it can ever end well. As well as being influenced by Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, Miller based this play on a true story; for three years the Wright Aeronautical Company colluded with army inspection officers and defective engines had been approved for use – a year later, in 1944, the officers responsible were charged and removed from active service. This chimes in with stories emerging in recent times about the actions of individuals in the armed forces, as well as the debate over historical allegations.
For writing of such quality you need a cast to match, and the one assembled for this Headlong co-production manages this in spades. Sule Rimi comes straight from a short stint as Robertson in The American Clock, and puts in a terrific supporting performance as Dr Bayliss, eagerly lapping up Chris’ idealism as his wife tries to rein him in. Bill Pullman and Colin Morgan have a believable father-son bond as Joe and Chris, making it all the more heartbreaking as events unfold towards the end of the play. It’s Sally Field who stands out as the ultimately rather manipulative matriarch, ensuring that Kate’s vulnerability & humanity isn’t lost; you can’t help but feel for her in her continued grief, and wish to do what she thinks is best for her family.
My verdict? A superlative production of a quality play, with a set befitting the American Dream – Sally Field is outstanding.
All My Sons runs at the Old Vic until 8 June 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.