Magazine article The Spectator

Miller Masterpiece

Magazine article The Spectator

Miller Masterpiece

Article excerpt

All My sons

Apollo, booking to 2 October


Cock Tavern, until 12 June

It starts softly, in a dream of American contentment. A country house nestles in the lap of its lush and blossoming garden.

The sun shines. Birds sing. Green foliage drips with the rain from last night's storm and Joe Keller, a prosperous manufacturer in his early sixties, potters about the lawn reading the newspaper and cracking jokes with his neighbours. His son Chris has returned home and plans to marry Ann, the girl next door. But there's a snag. In fact, there are two. Ann was engaged to Chris's brother, a navy pilot who went missing in the war a couple of years earlier. And Ann's father, along with Joe, was accused of selling faulty piston-heads to the US air force, a blunder that caused the deaths of 20 servicemen. In court both defendants blamed each other.

The jury believed Joe. He was acquitted.

Ann's dad was sent to jail. The truth about this scandal is known only to Joe and to his grieving wife Kate, who won't accept that her first son is no longer alive and refuses to sanction Ann's marriage to Chris.

This is a complex set-up but it takes a certain brilliance - or, if you prefer, a genius - to combine the abstract issues of moral responsibility and the personal questions of grief and love in a vibrant harmony that's amazingly clear, vivid and naturalistic all at once.

The play is a masterpiece on every level.

It's a romance, a thriller, a tragedy, a courtroom drama and a disquisition on human frailty and yet it unfolds with the unforced inevitability of a documentary. The final twist, which delivers a surprise of Sophoclean magnitude, turns it into one of the greatest whodunnits ever written. All My Sons, which was first staged in 1947, became an instant hit and established Arthur Miller's name. At that time it was easily the best play written since the death of Chekhov. Miller makes Pirandello look like a pretentious fidget and Shaw like an overexcitable sixth-former.

This excellent production, directed by Howard Davies, is undoubtedly the best thing to reach the West End since Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth. Davies perfectly captures the strange and unnamable tensions that haunt the action from the very beginning.

The leads are played by Zoe Wanamaker and David Suchet, who are best known for their TV roles as a dentist's wife and a Belgian detective. …

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