All My Sons, written by Arthur Miller
Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London
18th August 2010
Arthur Miller was regarded with something approaching awe in the post-Second World War period. Seemingly critical of American capitalism, investigated by McCarthy’s Un-American activities committee, married to Marilyn Monroe and the author of four hugely popular plays, he garnered a lot of media attention. Those plays – Death of a Salesman, A View From the Bridge, The Crucible and All My Sons – are still frequently seen on the worldwide stage.
As the years went by Miller’s notoriety, critical acclaim and success receded very substantially even though the later years of his career saw him write many plays which were the equal of his earlier successes. If anything his later plays were subtler in their approach and had less of a tendency to attempt to sum up the moral issues of the day (and the play) in the death of a lead character in the final scenes of the script.
Given all of this, it is no surprise that the play currently being seen by sold-out audiences in the West End of London is one of the four huge commercial and critical successes mentioned above which were written at the height of public awareness of his career. There is also no surprise that a review from the Telegraph observing the link between the story of the play – about a man who allows faulty aeroplane parts to be shipped to the air force for use overseas – and the current controversy about badly supplied UK soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq is printed large on the outside of the building. The play may have been written in 1947 but we are assured that it is still relevant for today.
Both that review and the conclusion of the play may be a little simplistic for my tastes but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that this is a very good production indeed. One of the reasons why it is hard to identify the best performance in this play is because the whole cast are producing work of a very high standard.
On the face of it there is nothing revolutionary about this production. Director Howard Davies previously worked on the play some ten years ago and the stage set here is very similar to others I have seen used for the play over the last thirty years. But it is the acting of the company which means that this version of the play is a huge success. David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker are well known to the audience from their TV work and are on outstanding form as Joe and Kate Keller. Ms Wanamaker displays the necessary mix of distraction, fatalism and strength which are part of the character of Mrs Keller while Suchet catches just the right blend of headstrongness and ebullience which are found in Mr Keller. The would-be-married couple of Chris Keller and Anne Deever, supported by Joe but stridently opposed by Kate, are captured excellently by the twin talents of Stephen Campbell Moore and Jemima Rooper.
This is a production where there are no real flaws. The play has its limitations and has dated but it is well worth its revival as would be virtually all of Miller’s work. On one hand it would have been nice to see some risks taken with the direction but with acting on display of this strength there is very little need to change a winning formula.