Review: All My Sons

Ciaran Chillingworth 15 October 2014

The audience's first impressions about this production of Miller's 'All My Sons' is the set design: a white, wooden, post-war, middle American house as well as turf, garden furniture, trellises, potted plants. A storm has just blown through, breaking the trellises and blowing down a tree commemorating the Kellers’ son, Larry, who died in World War Two. Windows and bits of roof are suspended above the house, giving the sense that, at any moment, the whole set could float away and disappear, appropriate given the play’s concern with how things can mysteriously, or not so mysteriously, vanish in the air. This goes a long way towards capturing a sense of strangeness in the familiar, a typical theme of Miller. There is an uneasy sense that the picket fenced, whitewashed piece of Americana on stage could, and probably will, turn sour.

That said, there are some issues with timings that stop the audience from being fully immersed in the setting. The opening storm sequence is effective, with eery singing and cascading lights to simulate rain, but altogether too short: just a few moments longer would do the trick and really bring us into its intensity and significance. The last scene, on the other hand, is powerful, but just over steps the mark, stretching out its final tableaux longer than the text warrants.

What is very pleasing about the final act is that the cast really comes into its own. Chris Born (Joe Keller) is particularly impressive, capping off a solid performance with a very moving breakdown; his charming grandfatherly lines turning to grief as he is forced to confront the past. Tom Russell (Chris Keller) and Jazz Jagger (Kate Keller) also should be commended for managing to crank up the intensity for the heartbreaking denouement. The whole cast work very well together, and their pairings are particularly convincing: Russell and Aoife Kennan (Ann Deever) are at their best when they are left alone to swoon in each other’s company, and the exchange between Jagger and James Dobbyn (Dr Jim Bayliss) at the start of Act Three is very charming.

This chemistry is a mixed blessing, however, and it leaves the speeches, of which there are a few, looking noticeably weaker. Miller writes very good speeches, and it would be nice to get them more polished. A lot of important lines and moments are rushed or, perhaps, brushed over: one gets the feeling the production team was, at points, more concerned with timings than with the play. Kate’s line to Ann in Act One, for example, ‘You — remember him, he’s in your thoughts’, and Ann’s response, ‘how could I help remember him?’, invite a greater pause and more consideration than they receive. And one thing that cannot be ignored is actors not knowing their lines. This is, of course, inevitable to an extent, but too often in this production the cast stumble or garble their words without adequately covering it up. Hopefully this will be tightened up, since it really can impede what is otherwise a solid production.

Nonetheless, all grievances aside, this is a strong show with a good cast, creative directing, and a sensitive and intelligent approach to the text. Thoroughly recommended for fans or newcomers to Miller.

7/10

Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

'All My Sons'  is playing at the ADC Theatre at 7.45 pm until Saturday 18th. Get your tickets online at https://www.adctheatre.com/whats-on/drama/all-my-sons.aspx