Arthur Miller himself describes the structure of his 1947 classic All My Sons as “designed to bring a man into the direct path of the consequences he has wrought”. In this impressive new Library Theatre production, Miller's multi-layered writing is delivered straight to the heart.
American patriarch Joe Keller (David Fleeshman) lives for his family; he will do anything for them. Though their son Larry’s plane vanished in battle, Joe’s loyal wife Kate (Brigit Forsyth) is convinced he’s still alive and waits for him to return home. Meanwhile, the other son, Chris (Jamie Lee) has an announcement to make: he wants to marry Larry's sweetheart, Ann (Sally Bretton).
Against a backdrop of regret, heartache and the anti-climactic feelings of post-war America, All My Sons unfolds, with each member of this close-knit family harbouring a secret. These are slowly, and devastatingly, revealed as the illusions of their picket-fence existence are shattered.
Chris Honer's masterful direction ensures that the audience are, at the end of each act, left gasping at the sheer power and ingenuity of Miller’s writing. The story’s claustrophobic and desperate atmosphere is enhanced through Judith Croft's hotbed of a set, lit in a constant and unforgiving glare by Nick Richings.
Joe Keller is a proud but flawed father, and Fleeshman’s fascinating portrayal allows us to empathise with his plight to the end despite misleading first impressions. As mother and son, Forsyth and Lee also deliver fine performances, with final scenes that are literally heart-breaking. I don’t know how many dry eyes there were in the house at the opening night performance, but there were certainly plenty of wet ones.
Miller’s play starts off as a slow-burning family drama but goes on to embrace all the elements of a fine thriller – it’s a spiralling nightmare of the American Dream gone wrong. Intense, moving and enthralling, it’s one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in the past year, and I doubt very much I’ll see anything as emotionally intense or satisfying in a long while to come.
Five decades on, All My Sons is still a must-see.
- Glenn Meads