All My Sons
We never meet the two most important characters in ‘All My Sons’, Arthur Miller’s 1947 heavyweight tragedy which proved his first major success and paved the way for the more well-known ‘Death of a Salesman’ two years later. Larry Keller went missing in action in World War II: we never meet him. Steve Deever is serving a prison term for knowingly shipping defective airplane engine parts, causing the deaths of twenty-one pilots: we never meet him either.
In this latest Highbury Players production, director Ian Appleby has assembled an impressive cast, each effective in conveying how the ghostly presence of these two absent characters exercises a profound influence over their lives. It’s a bold, powerful realisation of Miller’s intense family drama.
Set a few years after World War II, the story focuses on 60-year-old factory owner, husband and father Joe Keller. It’s a thematically complex play, as the director notes: “It is about society and the individual; about repression and guilt; about practicality and idealism; about truth and illusion; about self-sacrifice and profiteering – the hold of the past on the present, responsibility, conscience and consequences…and more.” Quite a list. Add hope, deceit, death, family, greed and The American Dream and this night in the theatre is guaranteed to stimulate, generating far more questions than answers. The complexity and ambiguity in Miller’s writing emerge slowly in this well-paced production: it’s a play which lingers long in the memory.
Malcolm Robertshaw’s excellent set, the backyard of the suburban Keller home, provides a perfect backdrop to the unfolding family drama. The characters seem hemmed in, enclosed, suffocated: a powerful metaphor for the claustrophobic grip of the past. In the role of family patriarch Joe Keller, Phil Astle cuts a wiry, awkward figure and captures the ‘terrible concentration of the uneducated man’ nicely. In a strong performance, he movingly conveys the conflicting anger, regret and fear of a family man trying to live with the consequences of his actions.
The terrible pain of a mother in denial about her son’s death, and a wife in denial about her husband’s actions, is palpable in Alison Cahill’s fine portrayal of Joe’s wife Kate. As truths are exposed in the play’s climax, she delivers a heartrending and poignant performance. Alex Westwood captures an admirable boyish optimism in his performance as former World War II soldier and surviving brother Chris Keller. There’s convincing chemistry between him and his late brother’s former girlfriend Ann Deever, played with understated power and strength in a standout performance by Kimberley Marlow.
The appearance of Ann’s brother George in the second act complicates already strained relationships further and is dramatically potent thanks to an energetic performance from James Cutajar which is full of resentment, bitterness and anger. There is excellent support from the Keller family neighbours: Sean Mulkeen and Eliza Harris as Jim and Sue Bayliss; Dan Holyhead and Amy White as Frank and Lydia Lubey.
An impressive production of an important play. Highly recommended.
‘All My Sons’ is playing at the Highbury Theatre in Sutton Coldfield until 6th July 2019.