Theatre review: All My Sons
If you need proof of London’s lofty standing on the global theatre scene recently, consider the top talent who have already acted in the city this year: Gillian Anderson, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett and Cillian Murphy have all appeared and now, All My Sons at The Old Vic (to 8 Jun) adds Bill Pullman and two-time Oscar winner Sally Field to that starry list.
If you’re not familiar with All My Sons, Arthur Miller’s first major play debuted in 1947 and it’s quite dark: the Kellers are living the American dream in the years following World War II, but the loss of one member of the family during the war hangs heavily overhead. Keller matriarch Kate (Sally Field) is convinced that her son Larry is still alive and, as the story unfolds and rumours about her husband Joe (Bill Pullman) resurface, Kate’s strong need to believe that Larry has survived is explained. To say more would spoil the story but as you can probably tell, this play is tense and heavy.
Much of this revival of All My Sons draws its tension from Field’s powerful performance, in which she can move from despair to warmth and then suddenly on to manipulative menace in the blink of an eye. Kate Keller tries with all her might to hold the family together, changing from an angry wife into a cheerful hostess in seconds, depending on the needs of those around her: it’s astonishing and thoroughly convincing.
Sally Field’s performance is key to the overall success of this adaptation, because in many ways, it is very simple: the set doesn’t change, which means that everything takes place in the back garden of the Keller house; there isn’t much to distract from the central plot, except for a few moments of much-needed comic relief delivered by minor characters. In other words, if a straightforward drama about the bleaker aspects of the American dream doesn’t sound good to you, this may not be the play to choose.
Thanks to confident, restrained direction and excellent performances from many of its actors, All My Sons at The Old Vic is both exciting and exhausting. It’s a drama lesson in the gradual watering of a very, very black cloud.
All My Sons is at The Old Vic until 8 Jun 2019
Wed & Sat 2.30pm, Mon-Sat 7.30pm, tickets from £12
The Old Vic, The Cut, SE1 8NB | 0344 871 7628