All My Sons was playwright Arthur Miller’s first major commercial success, and there is something paradoxical about the spacious Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre proving perfect for generating the required atmosphere of repression and judgment.
Set in America in 1946, the play explores the aftermath of a decision taken by factory owners Joe Keller and Steve Deever in 1943 to send out plane engines they knew to be cracked. Twenty-one pilots subsequently died, but while Steve was imprisoned Joe was acquitted of any wrongdoing. Joe’s son Larry also went missing in action around the same time, but three years later mother Kate still cannot accept he is really dead. As the drama unfolds, and new discoveries made by characters and audience alike, issues of aspiration, responsibility, loyalty and guilt are all placed under the microscope.
In Timothy Sheader’s production, Lizzie Clachan’s set presents an idealised image of the American home that could have come straight from a Norman Rockwell painting. Despite possessing a functioning door, the backdrop does not create an accurately proportioned house, but rather a stylised ideal.
The stage sits on huge tree roots, which may suggest that the ‘tamed’ garden where the action takes place is weak and insignificant compared with the larger and deeper forces at work. It also hints at the play’s tangled web of relationships, as does Sheader’s decision to fill the stage with characters in various formations between scenes. The outdoor setting is also exploited to the full as the play begins in daylight. Then as the revelations come one by one, so the sky gets darker and darker so that the chilling climax occurs virtually in pitch black.
Charles Aitken and Amy Nuttall are excellent as Joe’s surviving son, Chris, and his would-be fiancée, Ann, but it is the portrayals of Joe and Kate that leave the greatest impression. Tom Mannion’s ability to appear so carefree at the start makes this Joe instantly intriguing, if unsympathetic, as we wonder how he was ever able to bury his guilt so deeply in the first place. Bríd Brennan as Kate, on the other hand, paints a highly convincing picture of a woman who, in believing her son to be alive still, demonstrates basic maternal instincts alongside a total inability to face up to the truth.
Until 7 June at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, London NW1 4NU with start times of 2.15pm and 7.45pm. For tickets (£25-£55) call 0844 826 4242 or visit the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre website.
Londonist received a complimentary ticket and programme from The Corner Shop PR.