David Thacker’s debut production since taking over the helm of the Bolton venue is, in programming terms at least, something of a predictable choice. Noted for his numerous collaborations with Miller himself, Thacker is world-renowned for this sort of thing. So, it’s perhaps unsurprising that he’s made Miller’s 1947 family saga his inaugural production.
It’s 1946, and all-American son Chris Keller (Oscar Pearce) has brought his girlfriend Ann Deever (Vanessa Kirby) to the family home for the weekend. His parents, Joe (George Irving) and Kate (Margot Leicester), still mourning the disappearance of their other son, Larry, during the war, are concerned, as Ann was originally Larry’s sweetheart. The neighbourhood seems friendly and well-to-do, but the peaceful Summer evening is about to be shattered by a phone call.
Indisputably the 20th century’s greatest playwright, Miller’s work is always worth revisiting, though I’d previously never quite been convinced of the masterpiece status of this play. Thacker’s production has made me look at it afresh, and it reveals itself as an almost perfect diamond; a modern day Greek tragedy played out in middle-America’s metaphorical backyard.
This is brilliantly paced, meticulous piece of work, which manages to ratchet up the tension, and allows the characters room to grieve.
Played against Patrick Connellan’s simple set, beautifully lit by James Farncombe, this is a robust Rolls-Royce of a production – polished, gleaming, imposing. Thacker’s production is as unfussy and uncluttered as it needs to be, and still feels dense and weighty. So much so, on the night I attended, audience members audibly gasped at some key moments.
It’s the acting, however, that elevates this production, with some of the finest playing I can recall on the Octagon stage. Irving is spot-on as the wounded alpha male, and Pearce is superb as his conflicted son. There’s delightful work, too, from Tammy Joelle (as perky neighbour Lydia Lubey) and – in her professional debut – Kirby is wonderfully assured and commanding as Ann.
As for Leicester’s Kate Keller, she is breathtaking; a cracked matriarch with a painted-on smile, this gifted actress flawlessly conveys a multitude of emotions, and is deeply moving.
All told, this is a wonderful revision of a classic text, and a must-see production. On the night I attended, audience members rose up for a standing ovation – something I don’t recall seeing at the Octagon for quite some time –thunderously applauded their approval.
Deservedly so, as in this single production, the Octagon has raised the bar, and Thacker's All My Sons proves that it is a force to be reckoned with, both regionally and nationally.