Arthur Miller’s scathing portrait of American society is revived here by director Howard Davies with an intricate, naturalistic set and detailed performances. This production, captured by Digital Theatre live at London’s Apollo Theatre, met with wide critical acclaim and starred David Suchet as Joe Keller.
Howard Davies had previously directed the play at the National Theatre in 2000, for which he won both the 2000 Evening Standard and 2001 Olivier Award for Best Director.
Miller's All My Sons originally premiered on Broadway in 1947, and has been twice filmed, in 1948 and 1986. It won the 1947 Tony Award for Best Play. It was last revived on Broadway in 2008, in a production directed by British director Simon McBurney with a cast that included John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest and Katie Holmes.
The play revolves around Joe Keller (Suchet), who is alleged to have supplied World War II fighter planes with defective engines, leading to the deaths of innocent pilots — a crime for which his business partner took the fall. One of Keller's sons, himself a pilot, is thought to have been killed in action. But his mother (Wanamaker) can't accept his death and equally, can't accept that her dead son's fiancee Ann Deveer has transferred her affections to her other surviving son Chris. The confrontations that ensue lead to the uncovering of a shameful family secret.
CAST INCLUDES: David Suchet, Zoe Wanamaker, Stephen Campbell Moore (as Chris), Jemima Rooper (as Ann) and Daniel Lapaine (as George Deever).
‘Howard Davies’ National Theatre revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons ten years ago was pretty good, but he goes one better at the Apollo, where David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker are the perfect pairing as Joe and Kate Keller, an all-American, late middle-aged couple living with the ghosts of the Second World War in their own back yard.
It was once said that “cover-up” is the great theme of American drama, and Miller’s 1947 play, which established his reputation and is now hailed by some – David Mamet, for instance – as his true masterpiece, contains the mother of all cover-ups. Joe was an ambitious manufacturer of household and industrial goods in the war – including a batch of faulty cylinder heads that caused the death of 21 pilots. Did he know about the fault before shipment?
One of the war dead is his own son but, of course, they are all his sons really. Joe’s business partner took the rap and is still serving a prison sentence, while the partner’s daughter, Ann Deever, is about to marry Joe’s second son, Chris. But when Ann’s lawyer brother turns up with yet more damning evidence, a blot of shame spreads unstoppably through the household.
The anxiety that all of our families shared during the last war, and some still do today, has never been better expressed. Wanamaker, her long face taut as a mask, her voice cracked with pent-up emotion, simply cannot countenance the fact that Larry has gone. And, as in the NT Cottesloe, Davies establishes a tragic tone with an invented prologue of the wind howling through William Dudley’s densely forested garden.
The Cottesloe version was a traverse production, and Julie Walters inflected Kate’s grief through her own smart brand of sly humour. There’s no such equivocation with Wanamaker, who’s wringing our withers before she even opens her mouth. Joe on that occasion was the late James Hazeldine and he was, in the best sense, an ordinary Joe, the small businessman making good in the new market place of pressure cookers and washing machines.
Suchet brings much more weight, as well as shiftiness, to the role, and the evening winds up with a tension that’s almost unbearable. For this really is the shattering of the American dream. The crux of it all is the outstanding performance of Stephen Campbell Moore as the second son, who becomes the transparent conscience of the play, and he’s brilliantly partnered by Jemima Rooper as the hopeful but finally devastated fiancée.
Jerusalem was always going to be a hard act to follow on the Apollo stage, but the West End has now done Arthur Miller much more than proud: this is a truly magnificent revival.’
What's On Stage
‘Howard Davies' suspenseful and moving production, Arthur Miller's 1947 play "All My Sons," which tells of a man who puts his own and his family's well being above his responsibility to others, remains as powerful today as it was coming right after World War II. Providing the proper safe equipment to the military in combat is as important today as it was back then and when Joe Keller (David Suchet) decides to let cracked cylinder heads be shipped out, he sends 21 airmen to their deaths. Then he lies about it and blames his hapless partner who is prosecuted and sent to prison. Miller lets the truth of Keller's crime emerge gradually as the play first presents Joe as a hearty soul and successful businessman well-liked by his neighbors. Designer William Dudley places the Keller family in the backyard of a comfortable suburban home with tall, embracing trees and real grass. Joe lounges with the paper and smokes his pipe, sharing banter with the folks next door and playing games with the local kids. The only cloud in the picture is that Joe's wife Kate (Zoe Wanamaker) clings to the belief that their oldest son Larry, whose plane went down in the war, will one day return. That's a particular problem for younger son Chris (Stephen Campbell Moore) who has waited patiently for three years to ask Larry's girl, Ann (Jemima Rooper) to marry him. Ann arrives having accepted Larry's death but then George (Daniel Lapaine), the son of Joe's imprisoned partner, shows up demanding a showdown. With genuine artistry, Miller unpeels the onion of Keller's life to its decaying core and director Davies keeps the revelations coming with escalating suspense. Miller's theme of how profit and the desire for good standing in the community can swamp personal responsibility and destroy families plays out with growing tension and sadness. Suchet shows with great skill all sides of Keller's character -- from the cheery bonhomie of a man at ease in his personal domain to a sharp-suited businessman quick to make hard decisions to a frail, crumpled creature whose fabrications have finally been undone. Wanamaker uses sly glances to obscure the reasons for Kate clinging to the belief that her son is still alive and manifests keening grief when the truth emerges. Rooper combines prettiness with hints of steel, Lepaine is credibly angry and Steven Elder adds a balancing note of suburban angst as a neighboring doctor too settled for his own liking. Best of all is Campbell Moore who tackles commandingly the difficult role of the decent and idealistic son. In a memorable performance, he appears to grow physically from being a genial fellow who goes along to a man with the backbone to demand honesty and learn how to deal with it.’
‘Charles Spencer is profoundly moved at a wonderfully performed production of Arthur Miller's modern classic. Sometimes cavilling criticism must fall silent and this is one such occasion. Over the years I have sometimes denigrated Arthur Miller, the self proclaimed “impatient moralist” who often delivers his message like a preacher in his pulpit.
After watching Howard Davies’s magnificent revival of All My Sons (1947), however, such carping seems like a mouse squeaking at a mighty giant.
This is a play of extraordinary power and emotional depth, and when it is performed as wonderfully as it is here, Miller’s theme of man’s responsibility towards his fellow men feels genuinely noble rather than merely didactic.
It is also urgently topical. Watching this story of a manufacturer who condemned 21 young pilots to their deaths in the Second World War by knowingly supplying their planes with faulty cylinder heads, one can’t help but be reminded of allegations that our Forces in Afghanistan have been inadequately equipped by the Government.
In the present climate of political optimism and honesty, one feels David Cameron should insist that his entire Cabinet sees this play, and be reminded with such thrilling dramatic force that truth matters, and deceit has terrible consequences.
But I’m in danger of making the show sound worthy, when in fact it exerts the hypnotic force of a first-rate thriller as the noose of truth slowly tightens on its tragic hero, Joe Keller. There is the inevitability of Greek tragedy about All My Sons, but it also elicits gasps of surprise from the audience as the truth slowly emerges.
It is also profoundly moving. Last night I even spotted a hardened fellow critic weeping.
Davies creates an atmosphere of ominous unease right from the start, with a thrilling storm scene on William Dudley’s beautifully realised garden design, complete with real grass and great fronds of willows.
We are in the backyard of the Kellers, one of whose sons went missing in the Second World War and whose surviving boy, Chris, now wants to marry his brother’s former sweetheart. His mother is implacably opposed to the marriage, refusing to believe, three years on, that her beloved Larry is dead. If she admits that, she will have to admit a great deal more.
The superbly constructed plot progresses inexorably and the play is brilliantly persuasive on the way the human mind and heart can know a dark truth and yet still somehow deny it. The great David Suchet has never been better than he is here as the initially jovial Joe Keller, who seems to shrink within his own body as the chickens come home to roost. His gathering desperation and guilt is at times almost too painful to watch.
Zoë Wanamaker is also outstanding as his wife, clenched with grief and driven almost mad by the lie on which her life is based, and there is terrific support from Stephen Campbell Moore as the honourable surviving son and Jemima Rooper as the girlfriend who delivers the coup de grace.
This is a stunning production of a modern classic and one that those who see it will never forget.
I was slightly grudging in my praise when Howard Davies first directed Arthur Miller's 1947 play at the National 10 years ago. Now Davies has recreated his production, with a new cast, and it is time to bring out the superlatives. Not only is the acting tremendous and every visual detail precise, Davies also makes you realise Miller's play is a portrait of a society as well as of a flawed individual.
His hero, Joe Keller, is a thriving businessman who reveres the twin American gods: family and profit. That, ultimately, is his justification for his wartime action of allowing defective parts to be fitted to air force planes, and letting his former partner take the rap. But, in the course of a single day, Joe is confronted by the consequences of his moral abdication. One son, Larry, died three years ago in the war. And when the other son, Chris, decides to marry his dead brother's fiancee, both Joe and his wife, Kate, realise that the lies by which they have lived are destined to be exposed.
You could quarrel with Miller's occasional melodramatic touches, in particular the fiancee's revelation of a crucial letter she has kept hidden for three years. But the power of the production lies in the stripping away of protective illusion.
David Suchet's superb Joe is a man who conceals his guilt under a backyard bonhomie. He joshes his neighbours, lands mock punches on his loved ones' faces, and plays the beaming, pipe-smoking patriarch. But, confronted by the truth of his past, Suchet shrivels before our eyes. It is as if the values by which he lives have been stripped bare along with the man himself.
Zoe Wanamaker is no less astonishing as Joe's wife. She is as swathed in pretence as her husband, but the difference is that she knows it. Wanamaker brilliantly allows you to glimpse the vehemence that underlies the bursts of suburban gaiety and charm. As the crisis comes to a head, she emits cries of despair which wrench the soul.
There is fine support from Stephen Campbell Moore as the impossibly idealistic surviving son, and from Jemima Rooper as the tenacious fiancee. Steven Elder lends weight to a neighbouring doctor who sacrificed his happiness and admits "now I live in the usual darkness". William Dudley's two-storied set is immaculate in its domestic detail; and when the surrounding trees shiver and tremble at the start, it is as if All My Sons picks up where the previous and equally impressive occupant of this theatre, Jerusalem, left off.’