Sunday, 22 August 2010

Theatre Review: An early Miller masterpiece makes a welcome return.

All My Sons. By Arthur Miller. At the Apollo Theatre, London. With David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker. Booking until 2 October 2010.

"All My Sons" may not be traditionally the most well-known of Arthur Miller's plays, but this terrific revival proves why it was the piece that made his name in 1947.

A stormy overture sets an ominous tone for this mid-20th-century morality tale. Joe Keller (David Suchet) is a successful air parts manufacturer, who is living with his wife and one of his sons - we learn that the other, an air serviceman, is still missing in action after the upheaval of the Second World War. His business partner has been imprisoned for allegedly supplying faulty machinery that caused the deaths of several pilots in the war, and when his suspicious family come to Keller for answers, the man is forced to account for his own part in the decision to place material gain over social responsibility.

The first act may be necessary to introduce the neighbourhood's complex relations, as well as to contrast the trivial domestic trifles with the more destructive events to come, but it is a very slow burner. When the plot finally accelerates towards the middle of the second half, it explodes with the inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. Director Howard Davies, who oversaw the last major production, expertly piles on the tension again here and coaxes some superb performances. Zoe Wanamaker may be more adept at stricken mothers in serious drama than TV comedy, so convincing is her Kate Keller, who is unwavering in her belief that her vanished son is still alive; Wanamaker generates the right amount of pathos as she becomes entangled in her husband's web of betrayal and deceit. As the surviving son, Chris, Stephen Campbell Moore contributes an equally heavyweight turn in the difficult role of the moral centre of the play, modulating from angered to anguished as he comes to question his father's decency. Naturalistic set and lighting designs add gritty realism to an already volatile atmosphere of blame and guilt, which pervades right up until the devastating climax. The final revelations provide the proof that this early masterpiece from a great American dramatist should be counted among his best work.

Verdict: **** 1/2 out of 5

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