Arthur Miller’s revived and renowned All My Sons is a golden masterpiece. It’s an exceptional, multifaceted play and this 2019 production wholeheartedly does it justice, reaching new levels of theatrical excellence.
On the surface, All My Sons is about Joe and Kate Keller (Bill Pullman and Sally Field) and their happy life. They live the American dream. But beneath this, Miller explores the deeply complex nature of human behaviour. The play lays bare the potential conflict between personal gain and the larger moral choices that any of us may face in our lives. It paints a picture of the apparent American Dream underpinned by corruption, lies and guilty secrets.
While this play is now 70 years old, it couldn’t feel more relevant in a time where truth and lies are being blurred into one. Today, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between real or fake news, and we have become more aware than ever of people in power breezily shrugging off immoral behaviour. This is exactly what All My Sons addresses, and this is the brilliance of Miller’s writing; whatever distance we gain from its premiere, it still rings true to our modern day life.
As a fresh set of eyes to Miller’s groundbreaking play, I find the directing by Jeremy Herrin to be smooth and effortless throughout. There is a somewhat static feel to the staging, but this enhances the buttoned-up, smiling mask that is Joe’s life, built on denial and repression. Furthermore, this stillness is then brought to life in the interchanging second act.
Not only is the play a vehicle to produce a fantastic evening, but the cast match this excellence with their commitment and talent. Fields is stunning as Kate Keller, a heart-wrenching actor who evokes deep grief in the audience when she finally learns the truth about her son, Larry. Her frail yet sturdy portrayal of Kate is faultless throughout.
Pullman plays Joe as a phlegmatic and a good-humoured family man. He makes jokes and dismisses with a bland, simplistic philosophy. I find myself looking for more emotional bite from Pullman’s performance, but perhaps his breezy denials and self-justifications are designed to show how powerfully someone of influence can delude themselves. It is Colin Morgan, playing Chris, who most closely matches Field’s emotional crescendo, allowing us to derail with him at the moral outrage. Jenna Coleman is also very convincing, demonstrating Ann’s significant shift in emotional gear, from sweet and convivial through to a gritty and unflinching pragmatism.
The set and costumes by Max Jones perfectly match the façade of happiness the Keller’s are trying to create. The stage is beautifully dressed with foliage and a smart weather-board house. It is an advert for the American dream, which becomes an ironic metaphor for the turmoil that plays out throughout the evening.
All My Sons is a universally accessible play due to its themes of morality versus the idealistic way we all want to live. The journey we go on whilst watching this show is truly gripping, and it’s hard to fault this stunning production. Set in the aftermath of both the Great Depression and WWII, this is a night at the theatre that is one of a kind.
All My Sons is playing until 8 June. For more information and tickets, visit The Old Vic website.