All My Sons

This spring has produced some stunning ensemble work in London. Two of the best I’d rate as Lynn Nottage’s Ruined at the Almeida and the triumvirately written A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky at the Lyric Hammersmith.
Now comes Howard Davies’ superb reworking of his award-winning 2000 National Theatre production of Arthur Miller’s great 1947 classic, All My Sons.
In part a post WWII elegy, the play – a story of profit, loss and responsibility – speaks to us now, in a post Iraq, ongoing Afghan conflict Britain if anything with increased power. What, the play asks is the cost of adhering to a principle that says family first and always; and more, if wars are fought to create better lives what is their justification when soldiers return to find nothing has changed, and rather, others have financially benefitted.
Miller, contentiously for American audiences, placed this withering analysis within the bosom of an archetypal all-American – and here, quite distinctly Jewish – family and businessman, Joe Keller (David Suchet) and steadily stripped away every vestige of illusion about the morality by which they live.
Two outstanding speeches by Joe and his former soldier son Chris (a splendid Stephen Campbell Moore) emphasise in Joe’s case the lengths to which he persuaded himself the end justified the means and in Chris’s the death of his idealism. But almost every line, when played with such intensity and truth, pushes us into an examination of the compromises we all make in our lives.
Time again you wonder at the way Miller weaves the philosophical, political and domestic into a unified whole. Sure, the Ibsenesque symbolism intrudes. But Davies confronts it boldly head-on, starting with a great roll of thunder and lightning in William Dudley’s clapper-board and tree strewn frontage. Wanamaker’s Kate Keller stares, hears the drone of a plane and looks like a living dead woman – a mother haunted by loss, detached from the world around her.
Time past lives on in time present. The sins of the father, grief and retribution, reach like tentacles, destroying but also, finally, purging. Still a fabulous conscience-pricker of a play and a white-hot revival.