All My Sons, Arthur Miller’s colossal dinosaur of a play, will be revisited for centuries to come. Like the works of Shakespeare and Ibsen before him, it depicts the evil committed by ordinary men, the carnage that ensues, and the suffering of those who collude and look the other way.
First performed in New York in 1947, All My Sons carries with it the fallout of World War Two, when suspicion and guilt followed those men who were classified as unfit for military service, hence were not called upon to pay the ultimate price for their country. More than any other production before it, Jeremy Herrin’s direction brings to the fore the absolute contempt for those who profited on the home front, while husbands, fathers and sons sacrificed their lives for war.
The play’s anchor point is the unforgivable sin of Joe Keller (Bill Pullman), an industrialist who ships faulty airplane parts to the US military during the second world war, thus putting profit before the lives of soldiers. His selfish act results in the deaths of 21 pilots but, somehow, he is able to exonerate himself while shifting the blame to his business partner who languishes in a jail cell. When we meet Joe he is enjoying even greater post-war success, reaping the financial benefits of his thriving manufacturing enterprise. Life would be perfect but for the fact that his eldest son, Larry, whose plane disappeared during a combat mission, is presumed dead. Joe’s wife, Kate (Sally Field), clings feverishly to the belief that Larry is still alive. Mixed in with this cocktail of retribution and guilt, is Larry’s younger brother, Chris (Colin Morgan), a returning commander who lost a company of men during a bombing mission. Chris questions whether he has the right to be alive, but this doesn’t stop him from pursuing dead Larry’s sweetheart, Ann (Jenna Coleman), who is also the daughter of Joe’s jailed business partner, Steve.
Ann and her brother George (the excellent Oliver Johnstone), also a returning soldier, believe their father is guilty and have alienated themselves from him since his conviction three years previous. Two thirds into the drama this belief is refuted, and George now seeks justice for his father and for all the soldiers who were killed in the war. Joe Keller, who fears jail for his transgression, is now cornered.
All My Sons dwells on an epic crime of biblical proportions to justify its message: ‘The sins of the father shall be visited upon the sons‘ (Exodus, Chapter 20). More than previous productions, it lays bare the guilt shared by Kate Keller and her son, Chris, who benefit from the profits wrenched from the bodies of dead soldiers. They must wander endlessly for their crime, as must their greedy neighbours who, while condemning the Keller family, might also pay an unholy price – stultifying boredom and unhappiness – to secure the material comforts of post-war America, concepts which remind us that Miller, albeit never physically present, is always a character in this play.
All My Sons creaks with convoluted plot points to drive home Miller’s disdain for capitalism but still retains its power, despite an utterly inexcusable moment when Bill Pullman mumbles – nearly swallows – the most powerful line in the play. This is something director Jeremy Herrin must address. However, Sally Field’s interpretation of Kate Keller as a controlling, guilt-ridden woman, who seeks absolution through a dead son, is the most searing portrayal you will see this year. Highly recommended for her performance.
Review by Loretta Monaco
‘You don’t realise how people can hate, Chris, they can hate so much they’ll tear the world to pieces…‘
America, 1947. Despite hard choices and even harder knocks, Joe and Kate Keller are a success story. They have built a home, raised two sons and established a thriving business.
But nothing lasts forever and their contented lives, already shadowed by the loss of their eldest boy to war, are about to shatter. With the return of a figure from the past, long buried truths are forced to the surface and the price of their American dream is laid bare.
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Jeremy Herrin
Set & Costume – Max Jones
Lighting – Richard Howell
Sound – Carolyn Downing
Video – Duncan McLean
Casting – Jessica Ronane CDG
Voice and Dialect – Danièle Lydon
Fights – Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown
Baylis Assistant Director – Hana Pascal Keegan
Sally Field – Kate Keller
Bill Pullman – Joe Keller
Theo Boyce – Ensemble
Bessie Carter – Lydia Lubey
Gunnar Cauthery – Frank Lubey
Jenna Coleman – Ann Deever
Oliver Johnstone – George Deever
Kayla Meikle – Sue Bayliss
Colin Morgan – Chris Keller
Ruth Redman – Ensemble
Sule Rimi – Dr. Jim Bayliss
Russell Wilcox – Ensemble
BERT: Archie Barnes, Hari Coles, Alfie Todd
All My Sons
By Arthur Miller
13th April to 8th June 2019