All My Sons, Rose Theatre, Kingston, review: ‘An intense and moving production that lacks originality’

Director Michael Rudman, who won a Tony for best revival of Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman’, turns his creative hand to Miller’s American Dream dystopia

Emma Henderson
Saturday 05 November 2016 15:56
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Penny Downie (Kate Keller) reads the last letter written by her missing-in-action son Larry
Penny Downie (Kate Keller) reads the last letter written by her missing-in-action son Larry

Never has the American Dream been so aggressively ripped apart and turned into the American nightmare as it has in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, full of family deceit, lies and shame.

Director Michael Rudman, who won a Tony for best revival of Miller’s The Death of a Salesman, turns his creative hand to the dream-critiquing All My Sons which is credited as being Miller’s breakthrough success. Sticking closely to the original play, it is intense, moving and emotional. There is little freshness, but plenty of kick from emotive performances.

Miller puts loyalty into perspective through the lens of the Second World War. To a father, nothing is more important than family, but to his war veteran son, the survival of his comrades is of upmost standing. This difference breaks a seemingly perfect suburban family.

Questioning the morality of the ideal, the modern tragedy runs a full circle on the subject of death. It opens as missing-in-action son Larry’s memorable tree is torn down by a storm, and becomes the catalyst for what unravels.

David Horovitch and Penny Downie take lead roles in this production (Mark Douet)

The strong cast provide a powerful and captivating production. Considering it covers only one day and takes place entirely outside the Keller’s idealistically presented family home, the characters intensity carries the audience’s interest along with a rather intricate set design of the picket-fence family home and foliaged garden created by Michael Taylor.

David Horovitch, who plays patriarch Joe Keller, embodies the sense of bettering yourself for your family. He is weary, but not from age or the success of his business as he continually alludes to. He appears the family man of the street, and the epitome of the idealism. You’re drawn into him, by his fatherly appearance and soothing tone that at times is slightly bumbling.

But he has blood on his hands and has spent the past three and a half years covering his lies after he knowingly sent his partner to prison, after telling his partner to patch up defective aeroplane parts that led to the deaths of 21 pilots.

Joe, George, Kate, Chris and Annie (Mark Douet)

Kate Keller, played by Penny Downie, walks the stage like a ghost. Her face is pale and pained and the suffering mother is never willing to admit Larry is dead. But her denial is more than just grief. Instead she is a woman caught between her husband’s bloodied mistakes and hiding the truth from her surviving son Chris.

The optimist Chris (Alex Waldmann) is a war veteran that has moved on from mourning his brother and works for his father’s company. Deep down, he suspects his father is guilty, but desperately wants to believe his father is innocent. Alex is careful and rather regimented.

The tension – and pretence – comes crashing down to the ground, much like the tree, with the entrance of George Deever (Edward Harrison); the son of the jailed business partner. In what proves to be one of the best scenes which sees the pace charge, dishevelled and angry, he is the only one brave enough to finally challenge the truth and the Kellers.

Chris’s heart wretched realisation of the truth – that his brother killed himself when he learnt his father was responsible for the 21 pilots is heartfelt, but none so much as his father’s final acceptance of how Larry saw his mistake – “I guess to him, they were all my sons”.

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