Royal National Theatre
ALL MY SONS
by Arthur Miller
Lyttelton Theatre. In rep to 6 October 2001
Runs 2 hrs 20 mins. One interval
TICKETS 020 7452 3000
Review Timothy Ramsden. 14 August
Beautifully detailed direction and fine performances in outstanding revival.
Miller’s 1947 drama must have caught the post-war mood of families grieving as life is re-established, but technically this realistic family drama about past guilt could have been penned by an American Ibsen (perhaps it was – Miller adapted Ibsen’s Enemy of the People).
Even the faulty airplane parts echo the ‘coffin ships’ of Ibsen’s Pillars of the Community. Slowly the past unfolds and explodes the initial impression of the present. A tree gets struck by lightning, symbolism of Wild Duck proportions. The denouement is brought about by a letter. What more could the perfect Ibsenite want?Yet Howard Davies’ production (premiered last year in the National’s Cottesloe auditorium) makes this seem a great American play. It’s a show where everything combines harmoniously. The autumnal privacy of William Dudley’s garden set, backed by a housefront redolent of contented Yankee affluence, has a couple of hedge-gaps where neighbours pop in, reflecting the cosy suburbanism overlying the play’s tensions.
James Hazeldine’s Joe Keller is an unselfish performance, an ignorant, benevolent bear of a man, near sidelined in his own household. Yet each response to imagined allegations prepares for his eventual breakdown, epitomised in the vocal catch when he finally realises that the pilots whose deaths he caused were ‘all my sons’.
The one newcomer is Laurie Metcalf’s Kate, the wife and mother who clings to the belief her missing airman boy is alive. Metcalf is relentlessly nervy – no wonder Joe has learned to shrug off emotions. Constantly flickering face muscles declare the nervous overdrive of a woman for whom the past is her present.
Madeleine Potter’s Ann, the fiancee determined on moving into the future, has a composure that stakes out her territory for the final battle with Kate in a closing scene that has the inevitable, terrible force of Greek tragedy.