All My Sons: Can Blood Ties Be Broken?

By Christina Savopoulos

Award winning playwright Arthur Miller explores the concept of truth and lying to oneself, an emotional constraint that consumes individuals daily in his play All My Sons. Miller received his first Tony for Best Author upon the release of this insightful and heartfelt script. It’s likely you’re more familiar with Miller’s most popular and studied text The Crucible (you may be having flashbacks to your Year 12 English exam!). All My Sons is different; it examines familial tensions in a raw form and allows us to understand and relate to many of the dynamics presented.

Howard Davies’ direction of this highly successful play does justice to Miller’s writing and accurately conveys the complex layers that make a father and son relationship unique. Davies’ 2011 production at the London Apollo Theatre can be accessed via Digital Theatre, allowing fans of Miller’s work to view this remarkable play whenever they wish. This is not only for dedicated supporters of Miller – even newcomers will enjoy the witty conversation between family and neighbours that are contrasted with scenes of raw truth, delivered by a strong ensemble cast.

Set in the years following World War II, the Keller family’s buried lies resurface upon the return of a familiar face. Truths are slowly revealed, tearing the family apart. Society’s quest to attain the American Dream in the 1940’s and people’s fixation on monetary value is exhibited in conjunction with the revelation of individuals’ shortcomings. Based on a true story, the production’s use of costume, lighting, set and symbolism allows Miller’s detailed script to carefully play out, remaining true to the original work.

Neighbours coming and going throughout the performance paints a picture of a loving community, before the seemingly perfect nature of the family unravels. When push comes to shove, these actors deliver raw, tearful performances that tug on the heartstrings of even the most passive viewers. The actors display their well-rounded ability to comically and realistically carry a conversation, making dull topics like the weather captivating. In particular, David Suchet as Joe Keller manages to entertain throughout. It isn’t difficult to understand why the cast won three awards – two-time Best Actor Suchet and Best Actress Zoë Wanamak – among them.

Tonal shifts between quick-witted banter and emotionally heart-wrenching scenes make this play stand out on multiple levels. Zoë Wanamak delivers a riveting performance as Kate Keller, a mother in denial, yearning for her son to return from the war. Wanamak handles her scenes with a certain delicacy that caused me to hold on to her every word.

The costume design remains true to the time period and is effective in transporting viewers back to the aftermath of the devastating Second World War.  Though the costume pieces are relatively simple in design, they are just enough to convey context and allow the viewers to focus on the content of the dialogue; the main focus of the play. However, the designers allowed the characters’ costumes and hairstyles to become gradually unravelled as truths are revealed. Initially presented in clean, well suited attire with neat hairstyles, the costumes become dirtier, and the actors adopt a dishevelled, unkempt look as the characters come to terms with their reality.

The lighting remains fairly constant throughout the performance, the only notable change being a slight alteration from previously warm to harsh red lighting, conveying the significance of the truths revealed. More consideration could have been taken when designing the lighting, as the script allows for many opportunities to change from a plain model to something more enticing. Moments of shock could’ve been accompanied by darker lighting as opposed to the stark white that remained throughout most of the performance.

Following Miller’s intended single set, situated in the backyard of the Keller family home, Davies’ fixed set is reasonable considering the events of the play unfold roughly over the course of 24 hours. Despite remaining unchanged throughout the production, the set design is incredibly detailed, and the outdoor furniture and porch evoke a sense of nostalgia and childhood.

If you love analysing symbolism and reading into the meaning of various objects, then this play will give you lots to think about. The opening scene immediately establishes symbolic meaning as a memorial tree collapses, connecting to the unearthing of various truths whilst setting off a chain of events. This event shapes every aspect of the plot, leading to the ultimate heartbreaking reveal that will leave viewers reeling and questioning the lies in their own lives.

Many questions arise upon viewing this two-and-a-bit hour performance – do we become our parents? What will become of us when our idols are revealed to have made mistakes, the kind that can’t be forgiven? And is it possible for fathers and sons to really forgive each other for their unthinkable actions? Miller’s attempt to establish a concrete father-son relationship is commendable and although I am neither a father, nor a son, I was able to relate to the intricacies of the relationship and the overarching theme of accepting one’s truth for what it is. I wonder if you will too.

Howard Davies’ production of All My Sons can be viewed here.