How strangely Miller’s first great hit resonates with today, in ways no one could have predicted. This beautifully measured play opens with shots of laidback family life in a typical American small town where everyone knows one another. Comfortably-off factory owner Joe Keller’s backyard is a focal point, where he and the neighbouring doctor are reading the papers. “What’s today’s calamity?” jokes David Horovitch’s amiable Joe. Cue gales of ironic audience laughter, with the US election so raw.
For a play that unfolds like a Greek tragedy, it’s surprising how much laughter is built into these opening scenes. But that’s the point: drama, and especially tragedy, is an interruption of routine.
Director Michael Rudman worked extensively with Miller himself, notably directing an award-winning production of Death of a Salesman starring Dustin Hoffman. So Rudman brings a huge depth of insider knowledge, as well as a sure directorial instinct for the pace of the story and the complex relationships between its protagonists. There’s a terrific cast here too and designer Michael Taylor’s unusually realistic set – cosy front porch leading onto a verdant garden – works especially well too for a story that is all too authentic.
Keller is the father at the heart of Miller’s story, set in 1946. His younger son Larry is MIA in World War II and faulty aircraft parts manufactured in his factory caused the loss of other fathers’ sons. His deputy Steve Deever, who took the rap, remains in prison and although it’s known in the community that Joe is equally guilty, the Kellers’ lives seem unaffected on the surface. His wife Kate refuses to accept Larry is dead and his surviving son Chris wants to marry Larry’s girl Ann – daughter of Steve. And the Deevers used to live next door in what is now the doctor’s house, so those relationships are complex and uneasy indeed.
Horovitch’s Joe is all bluff heartiness, demanding to be liked and in pole position in both family and community, his guilt buried deep until events unravel. Penny Downie’s Kate is brittle in her bonhomie, steely in hope, her grief and guilt making her seem vulnerable, drifting almost wraith-like in long housecoats. Their relationship is clearly still physical. Like Claudius and Gertrude, they enjoy the fruits of a calamitous deceit and like the heroes of Greek tragedy they must be undone.
You can see why Francesca Zoutewelle’s enchanting Ann has fallen for Alex Waldmann’s intelligent Chris from the moment she skips into the yard like a breath of fresh air. He has a sense of humour and a conscience – a combination that would bode well for them as soulmates in any other circumstance. But Edward Harrison’s dark, angry George is an all too credible avenging fury.
Rudman told his cast: “Don’t sell the play to the audience. Make them come to you”. It’s a tactic that works wonderfully as the story reaches its tragic climax over the course of a day. Not simply a Greek tragedy, or an all-American one, but a human tragedy from one of America’s greatest Jewish playwrights given a production of which he would surely have approved.
by Judi Herman
Photos by Mark Douet
All My Sons runs until Saturday 19 November, 7.30pm matinees Thursday and Saturday 2.30pm, £8-£35, at Rose Theatre Kingston, 24 – 26 High St, KT1 1HL; 020 8174 0090. www.rosetheatrekingston.org