Writer: Arthur Miller
Director: Michael Buffong
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
For many Arthur Miller is tainted by schoolday memories, with students made to study his works in an isolated classroom setting. Like many a writer though, Miller’s work, accomplished though it is on paper, really soars when performed on stage. Talawa’s electrifying revival of All My Sons, opening in Ipswich ahead of a UK Tour, should, therefore, be on the must-see list of any English student.
Miller’s script is a masterpiece in building subtle tension. At first glance, it may seem an everyday tale of family life, a family coming to terms with the loss of their son during the Second World War. Miller though builds layer upon layer during the opening act that by the time the interval comes we’re aware that all is not as simple as it seems and the fuse has been lit for an explosive second half.
Those explosions are perfectly pitched in Michael Buffong’s beautifully observed production, building out of the everyday to provide a devastating narrative. It could be so easy to overplay the drama to turn it into a parody, but here the pace and performances are so carefully drawn that it grabs you by heart and fails to let go.
Ellen Cairns’ richly detailed design sets the scene and provides us with a real sense of community, a family home and yard as backdrop to the unfolding drama. That family and community is populated by a company in fine form.
Ray Shell and Dona Croll as patriarchs of the family are well balanced and center the performances. Shell as a man coming to terms with his past and Croll as the mother desperate to cling to any hope for the return of her lost son, however slim. There’s a sense of desperation to the pair but also a sense of bearing and control. It’s in the moments when that bearing and control falters that the true power of the piece hits home. This is far more than a two-person show, with the entire nine-strong ensemble delivering the goods. There’s particularly fine work from Leemore Marrett JR and Kemi-Bo Jacobs as Chris and Ann, the innocent victims of the family fallout.
Much has been made of the all black casting of this production but ultimately it doesn’t matter as this isn’t a play about skin colour. The casting may give the play a new perspective but, regardless of cast, this ultimately is a play about human nature.
All My Sons may not be easy viewing, it’s a dialogue-heavy piece that requires close attention, but give the piece the attention it deserves and it more than repays the effort. Talawa’s production will go down on the list of classic Miller interpretations.
Runs until 21 Feb and then tours | Photo Pamela Raith