All The Stars for All My Sons – A Digital Theatre Production
[This review is for the filmed production of 'All My Sons', performed at the Apollo Theatre in London, 2010. This performance is part of the Digital Theatre Production Collection]
All My Sons (1947) first established Arthur Miller as one of the preeminent writers of his generation; and watching Hugh Davies’ masterful revival it’s easy to see why.
However, one must consider the contemporary audience – is it still relevant to them? Many claim it is. Some have even called it ‘urgently topical’ and maybe they’re right. Yet the term ‘topical’ is superfluous. Miller writes about people. His dialogue needs no dressing up or re-vamping, it needs only to be served, straight and true. This is arguably Hugh Davies’ biggest achievement – his production serves the text, which allows us to see, as Miller intended, what truth does to our reality, and what lies do to our soul.
Joe Keller (David Suchet) is a manufacturer alleged to have supplied World War II fighter planes with defective engines, leading to the death of 21 pilots – a crime for which his business partner took the fall. Joe however feels exonerated in the belief that he did it for his family. Suchet (of Poirot fame) perfectly captures this: he moves around the stage as if it were his own, a man truly at ease. He appears innocent, and we believe it. Suchet has a powerful presence: his rumbling baritone and physical energy commands the stage throughout. Yet his real skill shines as the truth draws closer. There is a deep-seated change that washes over the character, and he regresses into an ugly wretch of a man. It is unnerving.
Joe’s wife, Kate (Zoe Wanamaker), also has a ‘knack’ for believing lies. She believes her husband’s lie, and though her son has been missing in action for three years she still believes he is coming home. Yet her dark reality is twofold: if Larry is dead, then Joe is guilty. Wanamaker was strongest when reacting to another character. Her loyalty and motherly instincts are all quite believable and she puts forward a wonderfully measured performance in all matters regarding Joe. However, a few odd (wrong) choices were made when Wanamaker was required to reach her own emotional height.
Joe and Kate’s son, Chris (Stephen Campbell Moore), is a different creature – a man of principles. Despite this, Chris also chooses to believe the lie. It is easier to live with. Upon learning the truth however, he must confront his initial suspicion and face a dilemma: hand over his father, or forgive him totally. Ultimately, he can do neither – a shattering revelation because it means his principles have failed. Moore takes us on a spectacular journey of conflicted duty, and it is heart wrenching to watch. He breaks in front of us. We see the hope tumble out of him. He is everything Chris should be – and the real genius is that Moore shows us how Chris fails to be all he could be.
His girlfriend Ann (Jemima Rooper) is the coup de grace to this constructed reality. It is a difficult role to perfect. Yet Rooper delivers a powerful performance. It is beautifully judged and she embodies the tortured energy of a young woman needing to move forward, in life and in love.
Her brother, George (Daniel Lapaine) and the son of Joe’s imprisoned partner, is equally compelling. Lapaine delivers what is written: an excellent example of the duality found between courageously facing the truth and slipping into the comfort of a lie. He arrives on stage, assumedly to tear down the lie and reveal the miserable truth. But he falters in his conviction and succumbs to the charms of Joe and Kate. He is tempted by the possibility of a comfortable, easy life, albeit a lie. This young actor presents us with the complexities of a boy who is forced to become a man. Lapaine is deeply moving – his eyes fill with hot tears as he struggles to choose between what is right and what is easy.
Credit must also be given to William Dudley’s set which is perfectly observed down to the smallest detail: the beautiful white wooden house with the inviting comfort of a front porch provides a relative safe haven from the outside world – symbolised by the semi-jungle that borders the perimeter.
Davies‘ vision is impeccable as is his ability to cast and direct the finest of performers who excel in a production framed by two explosive moments of truth. But in the end, like all great literature, Miller provides no answer. Is it possible to live a principled life? None of the characters are able to manage it. And when we do sacrifice our principles, how can we live with such choices (21 lives in exchange for protecting your family). Is detachment the answer? Or will our responsibilities catch up with us in the end? Ultimately, the beauty lies in the realization that Joe isn’t a bad person. In his place many of us would have done the same thing, for we are only human.
Though theatre can sometimes lose its magic on tape, this production is superbly filmed and is of the highest quality. It is well worth the download, and surprisingly affordable. Certainly up and coming actors could use it for an in depth character study, and theatre lovers should have it simply for the joys of a good piece of theatre.
This play was produced at the Apollo Theatre, London in 2010. A live recording is available through the link.