All My Sons, first staged in 1947, is, out of Arthur Miller’s repertoire, not one of the great favourites for revisitation by modern production. Looking at the text, it is not hard to understand why: while dealing with a heavy, complex, and challenging theme, it relies almost entirely on dialogue and character exploration, it has a number of false endings, and it generally is at risk of feeling too slow or heavy in more than one place. The strength of the play being practically entirely on the credibility and complexity of its characters, and its emotional charge being entirely reliant on their interactions, All My Sons requires a great strength of performance from its cast in order to show its full potential and come across as a convincing piece. It is a challenging choice to bring it to the stage in its entirety, and in a conservative rendition that does not rely on stage gimmicks, does not intervene on the original text, and does nothing else to make the cast’s work easier.
The new production of All My Sons at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama made precisely this choice. The staging is entirely set in the Kellers’ garden, it is a detailed reproduction of a slice of suburban America in the years immediately after World War II, and the only concession to any form of inventive prop is a screen in the back showing time-appropriate ads and some footage of war pilots, during the intermission or as an aid to transition between scenes. Everything else is simply the characters, and the cast tasked with bringing them to life. Even the use of music is minimal, and to the point that, when it happens, it feels almost jarring, as if it is intruding on the action.
This is due to the intensity of the action itself; once into the full of it, one does not want to see it interrupted. There is an electric tension of sorts running between the characters in Miller’s text that the cast from the RWCMD managed to bring to life almost perfectly throughout the play. It is an impressive set of strong performances, shouldering the weight of difficult characters with ease and believability and managing to convey their complexity in a credible way. Particularly praiseworthy is Heider Ali’s performance as Joe Keller, perhaps the most difficult part in the whole play, delivered with a powerful stage presence and an excellent use of body language to provide an unspoken subtext to the character’s actions. Lucy Reynolds also gave a strong performance as Kate Keller, inserting something subtly strident in all her dialogue. The whole cast was convincing when playing off each other, and the emotion came across as real, even though some confrontations would have possibly benefited from being somewhat less loud and shouted. There is an undoubted intensity to the play that could have at times been conveyed in more subtle ways, but overall the cast captured the changes of mood with good timing as the story unfolded. The American accents were sometimes not as convincing as they could have been, but it was barely noticed once the plot got going, again thanks to the strength of all performances.
All My Sons is ultimately a play about an unpleasant truth – not the one concerning Joe that is gradually revealed, but a greater one concerning all of America and its reliance on warfare as an industry, a profitable business that requires a sacrifice of human lives to be kept going. Both cast and director tapped into this heavy subtext and managed to bring it to the stage, and this more than anything else makes this production ultimately a success. It is to be lauded on the brave choice to remain completely loyal to the text and face its challenges rather than trying to find a path around it, and on the excellent work of its whole cast in fleshing out those characters. While there are still some hiccups and the slower-paced sections are still somewhat tough on the audience, the end result is bold and coherent, with some particularly strong stage presences and showing a great amount of promise.
Until October 27