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 The Theatreguide.London Review

All My Sons

Like much of his work, Arthur Miller's play is a solid, occasionally stolid drama whose earnestness carries it over the occasional rough patch. And this is a solid, occasionally stolid production whose earnestness almost carries it over the frequent rough patches.

There is no reason for me to be coy about spoiler alerts. This is the kind of play in which everything is telegraphed long in advance, because the interest is not in what will happen or what did happen in the past, but in how everyone will react when what has been obvious to us finally comes out.

During the Second World War a manufacturer allowed some defective airplane parts to go out, and several pilots were killed as a result. He managed to pin the blame on his partner, but remains under a cloud of suspicion. Meanwhile, the man's own son was missing in action, and his wife refuses to believe he is dead.

The play's two plot lines come together when the living second son wants to marry his brother's old girlfriend, daughter of the disgraced partner. The play's message, encapsulated in the title, is that the manufacturer should have had a larger sense of responsibility than merely to his own family.

Bill Pullman, an American actor who has built a career on being not-quite-a-leading-man, begins slowly but eventually finds some of the father's humanity through a character-actor route. But perhaps deliberately, he gives a self-effacing supporting actor's performance, and he and director Jeremy Herrin never plumb the depths of the man's passion, guilt, anger and pain.

Joe Keller remains a little man having a little crisis, when Miller was striving for some modern equivalent of high tragedy in an ordinary life.

This production is being marketed largely on the name of Sally Field as the mother crumbling under the weight of multiple denials. But even more than Bill Pullman the actress seems unable to find the character's depth of emotion and pain.

In what is surely a directorial mistake, the performer in her seventies plays a character in her sixties as if she were in her nineties, the quivering voice and cardigan-shrouded hunched body leaning too much toward generic Panto-level Little Old Lady.

The younger generation are stronger. Colin Morgan convincingly captures the living son's emotional confusion as family secrets force themselves on him and he must acknowledge that he has always half-known them but been in almost as much denial as his mother.

And Jenna Coleman makes the girl a very modern and attractive figure who, without being cold or unemotional, knows what she wants and brooks no interference in getting it.

Aside from the limits of some of the characterisations – the secondary roles, admittedly all underwritten by Miller, never take shape – director Jeremy Herrin has difficulty placing people and moving them around the stage.

Though Max Jones' set is not cluttered, actors repeatedly find themselves sidling uncomfortably around, behind or between things when simpler routes were available.

And see how clumsily he pushes Bill Pullman forward to turn his back on the others and address the audience directly with the moral-of-the-story line containing the title.

This production doesn't get in the way of the play too much. But it doesn't plumb the moral depth and emotional power other productions have found in it.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  All My Sons - Old Vic Theatre 2019
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