"Will you stop talking like a civics book," growls one of the characters in Arthur Miller's 1947 play All My Sons.
People who don't like this dramatist argue that that is precisely what Miller himself can't resist doing. It's true that there are moments when the themes – the penalties of denial and of putting self and family before the collective good – are spelt out too insistently. But watching Howard Davies's emotionally searching, expertly acted revival, you're persuaded that this is a small price to pay for the play's fierce moral fervour and the psychological penetration of its insights.
This is the second time that Davies has tackled All My Sons. This new staging revisits and revamps the approach taken by his award-laden version at the National Theatre a decade ago. Once again, he opens the proceedings with an extra scene which dramatises the storm in which lightning prophetically fells the tree that had been planted to mark the birth of the son who went missing in action in the Second World War. As she fearfully prowls the terrace of their imposing white clapboard house, this calamity is witnessed by the insomniac Kate, the mother who, three years on, still cannot bring herself to believe her boy is dead. Zoë Wanamaker is superlative in the role, showing you a woman who is a heartbreaking and deeply unnerving mix of agitated neurosis and indomitable will.
David Suchet is on magnificent form as Joe Keller, the man who, under pressure of wartime production, knowingly sold defective cylinder heads to the American airforce, thus sending 21 young pilots crashing to their deaths. Suchet effortlessly commands the stage, his guilt superficially buried under the rabbit-punching swagger and slightly strained bonhomie.
Ethically, the surviving son is right to condemn him. But Stephen Campbell Moore, in a finely judged performance, lets you see, as well as the principled idealism, the aggrieved priggishness of a youth who affects to despise his father's soiled money without decisively renouncing it. Miller's Ibsenite plot occasionally creaks and is marred by certain implausibilities; but while it lasts, you are swept up by the production's splendid self-conviction.
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