All My Sons Review: Tragic Hero Shall Rise

Written on 17 July, 2016

How can a drama with merely one scene and a one-day timeframe, excavate so deeply into human nature? Howard Davies’s production of Arthur Miller’s 1947 play All My Sons is such an astonishing revival that utterly shows the destruction of family, love, idealism.

The story unfolds in the backyard of Joe Keller (David Suchet), a businessman whose factory once sold defective parts to the US airforce during the Second World War, causing the death of 21 pilots. His wife Kate (Zoë Wanamaker) is tortured by the disappearance of their beloved son Larry in the war and simply cannot accept the fact that he is gone. When Chris (Stephen Campbell-Moore), the surviving son, aspires to marry his dead brother’s fiancee Ann Deever (Jemima Rooper), the unbearable tension within the family is triggered.

The experience of viewing “Son” is almost like participating in a breathtaking detective game. From start to finish, new clues gradually come in — Joe’s strange and ambiguous reaction to the word “jail”, Kate’s slip of the tongue, Ann’s exposure of Larry’s letter. Smoothly but swiftly, the audience is guided through many question marks to a great exclamation mark.

Western drama derives from the Greek tragedies, where the protagonists are often considered as tragic heroes. So is for Joe, an ordinary family man, hardworking, genial, amiable. He does have some flaws, which forebode the arrival of a bloody climax. Suchet interprets Joe’s internal struggle in rich details, revealing the contradictory qualities of this character. Wanamaker brings much more weight by manipulating facial expression to convey latent messages. For instance, when she pretends to be joyful in the presence of Ann’s lawyer brother George (Daniel Lapaine) — the “play within a play” leaves an incredible imprint. Another great performance is when the doom strikes, she calls Joe’s name four times, mixing desperation, sadness and relief, which yields an unforgettable closing scene.

Davies spares no time to bore his audience, especially regarding his invented prologue – thunders cut through William Dudley’s realistically forested garden, while winds howling over the sky as if it is the airplane carrying Larry, with Paul Groothuis’s threatening sound effect. A decade ago, Davies has received many awards with the same play at the National Theatre, but it is obvious that he has proceeded much further with this new team.

There’s excellent work from Dominic Muldowney’s sorrowful and reoccurring melody. Moreover, Mark Henderson’s lighting is worth a round of applause. Following the development of the unfolded secrecy, the bright daylight firstly shifts to a warm hue, then to a reddish-dark sunset, followed by a cold, blue night and later bathed in the blazing morning sunshine. This fabulous change allows the characters’ mood to transit accordingly.

“Son” is a penetrating work, which portrays a much bigger picture beyond a single household. Miller not only casts severe criticism and challenges over two pillars of the American dream: family and profit, but also underscores the importance of idealism. Approaching the end of the play, Chris bids his idealism farewell, marking the ebb of all the conflicts. Steven Elder, cast as the neighboring doctor, says, “Every man does have a star. The star of one’s honesty. And you spend your life groping for it, but once it’s out it never lights again.”

If “Son” has successfully torn up all the beauty in front of you, it is time to cherish your own star before it is eroded by merciless reality.

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