All My Sons (Open Air Theatre)
Amy Nuttall and Tom Mannion provide outstanding performances in this chilling production of Miller's drama
Arthur Miller is the man of the moment this summer, with a string of high profile revivals of his work. Following on from Ivo van Hove's stunning production of A View From the Bridge starring Mark Strong at the Young Vic, and preceding The Crucible starring Richard Armitage at the Old Vic, All My Sons has opened the new season at the Open Air Theatre, a fitting venue for a play set in the garden of a middle class home in post-war America.
Joe Keller is your average, hardworking family man, who harbours a secret that threatens to shatter the very household he has built his life on. His son Larry went missing-in-action three and a half years ago, around the same time Joe was embroiled in a scandal which led to the death of 21 pilots and the imprisonment of his business partner. Now, as his other son Chris announces his decision to marry his dead brother's fiancee, Joe is forced to confront the actions he took in order to allow his son to live free from guilt.
Whilst All My Sons is a naturalistic play, there are few naturalistic qualities in Lizzie Clachan's effective design. A large backdrop, emblazoned with a vintage cartoon image of a typical American middle-class family, towers over the stage like an imposing billboard advertising the American Dream, Miller's criticism of which lies at the very heart of the play. The lighting, whilst officially designed by Guy Hoare, is essentially provided by mother nature, seeing as the action takes place over one day; after returning from the interval, dusk had fallen on Regent's Park.
Open Air Theatre artistic director Timothy Sheader opens each act with a full cast tableau, which lends the production an almost soap operatic feel, and throughout the evening the idea that Joe is under constant scrutiny from the community is maintained through clever use of the areas to the side of the main stage.
Tom Mannion - utterly believable as Joe, a man who is running out of places to hide - helms a strong cast including a show-stealing performance from Amy Nuttall, whose Ann is both desperate to move on from her past and yet set on concealing the one piece of information that will help everyone to do so. Charles Aitken and Andy McKeane also put in stellar turns as Chris and George respectively, their confrontation providing one of the punchier moments of the evening. Holding everything together, Brid Brennan plays matriarch Kate with a chilling intensity that builds throughout and leaves us all on tenterhooks.
All My Sons is about the choices people make and the lengths someone will go to in order to protect and provide for their family. Sheader's production starts gradually and winds into a dramatic crescendo that had me perched on the edge of my seat by the end. A thrilling revival of a stirring play that should be on anyone's to do list this summer.