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A CurtainUp London London Review
All My Sons

by Tim Sealey

We all got hit by the same lightning. — Kate
All My Sons
Tom Mannion (Joe Keller) and Brid Brennan (Kate Keller) (Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan)
The Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park is one of the most unique performance spaces in London. Considering the outdoor setting and the subsequently endless auditorium, if played right, it can somehow prove to be an intimate space. Arthur Miller's All My Sons is an intense and harsh scrutiny of the effects of the Second World War on suburban family life. It's depth and complexity in nature would not normally suit an outside performance but the Open Air Theatre creates the perfect awe and ambience in which one can analyse Miller's exposition of family loyalty and the American Dream.

With an essence of Greek tragedy to the proceedings, Joe (Tom Mannion), a self made man and our protagonist, has tried to protect his family by covering up that he ordered the release of faulty plane engine heads from his factory. The resulting tragedy is the death of 21 US Air Force pilots and the imprisonment of his neighbour and partner Steve, who was blamed for the crime. The proposal between Joe's son Chris (Charles Aitken) and Steve's daughter Ann (Amy Nuttall) begins the tumultuous revelations of the past. The tale is then given even more convoluted branches as we learn that Ann was originally in love with Joe's other son Larry, missing from the war and presumed dead. Kate (Brid Brennan) the matriarch and suffering wife in denial of both the guilty husband and missing son is the tragic heroine who through loyalty and love for her family ends up losing everything.

The stage upon which we see this knotty drama is seemingly supported by entangled and ominous tree roots. This is perfect in suggesting a deep and underlying family complication. In fact, Lizzie Clachan's set design is hugely successful in both portraying a garden of rural 1940's America as well as planting in our minds the many themes and the eloquently beautiful subtext of the language through visual representation. Tom Mannion is believable as a desperate father flailing at the truth while Amy Nuttall is very engaging as the charming Ann. Bird Brennan steals the show as the perfect post war American mother, trying to keep the ideal home and family from crumbling to dust. Her refusal to believe the death of her son is very moving and Brennan is admirable in her ability to execute sincere depth in such an open space.

Timothy Sheader's production starts off at a crawlingly slow speed but in my view I think that is the Miller curse. Fortunately as the arms of this poisonous tree begin to unravel, the pace catapults and one becomes hypnotized by the unfolding drama. Miller's text is also mesmeric in its form and you are taken in not only by the simplicity of his words but with the profundity of the characters who speak them.

There are moments that are in danger of being spoilt due to a lack of reigning in on the overplaying of dramatic moments but generally Sheader has managed to derive every element of this play onto a very difficult canvas. The tone and rhythm of the piece is also given life and support by Nick Powell's composition and Ian Dickinson's sound design. This is a hearty and full weighted production that will leave you with much to discuss and dissect on your way home. A perfect summer evening of theatre if the weather holds.

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All My Sons by Arthur Miller
Directed by Timothy Sheader
Designed by Lizzie Clachan

Starring: Tom Mannion, Simon Wilson, Matt Cross, Tilly Blackwood, Maddie Rice, Charles Aitken, Ewan Harris, Charles Maddox, Johnny Peat, Brid Brennan, Amy Nuttall, Andy McKeane
Lighting: Guy Hoare
Composer: Nick Powell
Sound: Ian Dickinson for Autograph
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes including a 15 minute interval
Box Office: 0844 826 4242
Booking to 7thJune 2014
Reviewed by Tim Newns based on 20th May 2014 production at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, Inner Circle, London NW1 4NU
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