sat 13/08/2022

All My Sons, Royal Exchange, Manchester | reviews, news & interviews

All My Sons, Royal Exchange, Manchester

All My Sons, Royal Exchange, Manchester

Talawa take does justice to Arthur Miller's drama of a family at war

The geometry of relationships: Don Warrington and Doňa Croll in 'All My Sons'Jonathan Keenan

The guilt of knowingly sending our sons to war with defective equipment and fatal results certainly resonates today. Who takes the blame? Do we get ministerial resignations or arms-dealers going to prison? Going back to post-World War II, this is the shocking dilemma that Arthur Miller deals with so harrowingly in All My Sons, bringing it home to each one of us by focusing on just one family.

Here we have what he conceived as an “ordinary” American middle-class family in Midwest in August 1947 living with the knowledge that dad’s greed and deception has contributed to the death of 21 young  pilots, as well as the elder of his own two sons, Larry, also a pilot. How does he live in denial? And how does his wife deal with it? She is also in denial till the end that Larry is dead at all, although he was declared missing in action three years earlier.

Warrington builds to a venomous climax with powerful effect

The play, conceived and written in wartime, was inspired by a true story. During a conversation in his living room, Miller was told about a family that had been destroyed when the daughter turned her father into the authorities on discovering that he had been selling faulty machinery to the Army. That matured into his drama of 61-year-old Joe Keller, guilty of supplying fractured but patched-up cylinder heads to the USAF for their P-40s, with catastrophic results. When found out he put the blame on his buddy and business partner, who goes to prison while he continues that “normal” family life with his wife, Kate, their younger son Chris, friends and neighbours. In this situation Miller explores and exposes what he calls “the geometry of relationships”. And that’s the nub of it.

Being a Tawala Theatre Company co-production, directed by Michael Buffong with an all-black cast, Miller’s all-American family takes on a fresh look. Buffong and actor Don Warrington (pictured right) briefly discuss the “colour issue” in a programme interview. But essentially, of course, there isn’t one. After all, we’re not talking here about the Jim Crow Laws that would have seen their ex-Army son segregated, nor about Eleanor Roosevelt’s key role in getting black pilots like Larry into the air. We’re simply concerned with universal human values and the test of moral responsibility.

Led by Warrington (Joe) and Doňa Croll (Kate), the cast penetrate the inner workings of people caught up in this battle of loyalty and conscience. And they do it with impressive ensemble playing.

The slow burn softens us up before the explosive second act, when the full awfulness of Joe’s deception is revealed. Gradually and ferociously the mental defences are brought down as everyone has to face reality and the inexorable ending, like a Greek tragedy.

At the centre of it all is Kate, outstandingly portrayed by Croll, the protective wife and mother, hurting, brave, clinging to the hope that Larry is still alive. Despite some eccentricities, particularly of accent (sounding to my ear more Deep South than Midwest), Warrington builds to a venomous climax with powerful effect. Chike Okonkwo finely captures the character of Chris, the affable, sensible, thoroughly decent one who does take on his father in the end. And as Ann Deever, the girl-next-door girlfriend, daughter of the imprisoned patsy and holder till the end of the key piece of information that will stop Kate’s pretence about Larry once and for all, Kemi-Bo Jacobs (pictured above left with Croll) is affecting.

The action, not entirely effective in-the-round (which also causes some auditory problems), is played out on an open-space with minimal dressing, although at one side is the Keller house and porch, which looks more like a suburban shed than a factory-owner’s home. And it is out of the sightline of a significant portion of the audience. But overall this is a powerful production which does full justice to Miller’s conception.

Buffong and actor Don Washington briefly discuss the 'colour issue' in a programme interview. But essentially, of course, there isn’t one


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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