Wednesday 11th November 2009, matinee with pre-show discussion.
Before seeing Arthur Miller's first major success (which was the opening production of Leicester's Curve's second year), I was not majorly aware of the play or playwright, only being told that he was one of the greatest American playwrights. The strong American themes in the play were clearly highlighted in the poster which displayed a burnt American flag, suggesting war and also the breaking-down of American values.
The pre-show discussion was held in the main auditorium, allowing us to see Steffi Wurter's design and to mainly meet the actors Ian Redford (Joe Keller) and Phil Cheadle (Chris Keller).
After seeing another production of All My Sons and after further researching the play, I realise that Wurter's design, although impressive, was not right for the show.
All My Sons is best played naturalistically. After all, the domestic and mundane family conversation such as talking about the weather and what's in the newspaper settles the audience in so that the when more drama does happen in the play, the we really should care for the characters. I once read that by Act 3 we should know the Kellers more than our own neighbours and family members, thus adding a complexity as it makes Joe and Kate Keller not the typical villains owing to the fact that we have grew to know and like them. Indeed, the action was being played wonderfully, particularly by Redford's believable 'crook of a business man' Keller. However, the set seemed confused: a noisy gravel driveway with added trashcans and rain effects in the third act suggested a naturalistic touch, perhaps too excessive. However, AstroTurf-like grass and the one floor, wood-panelled house lifting up so it was suspending like it was a hovering spacecraft in Act 3 made me wonder if director Walter Meierjohann was complicating this play too much.
When the house did lift up, it left an empty house interior apart from a chair to be revealed. It was in this space that we saw the broken Keller (facing upstage) shoot himself. A questionable choice maybe, but what was more questionable was the huge vacuous space behind the set where you could see the back of the stage space which was used by one of the performers after Keller killed himself.
The pre-show discussion included the audience collectively directing a sequence with the newspaper in Act One. At one point, it was suggested that the newspaper was thrown and it took a while before something that the actors were happy with was settled on. From a technical side, there was a demonstration of the house lifting up. We were given an excerpt from the prompt book and a volunteer was responsible for shouting the cues. Although an enlightening workshop, we mutually felt that it spoiled Act One as we knew all of the subtext.
The minor role of Bert was made the first character on stage (entering through the audience) and he was also present later on in the play when he appeared on the roof simply observing the action. No matter how many metaphors I could say was the reason for this, I feel that they would be weak reasoning and even after knowing much more about the play, I am still unsure at what Meierjohann was trying to get at with this.
Although not the best of productions, I am very grateful for seeing it. After coming out of the auditorium, we agreed that we enjoyed it, but it wasn't until more time passed that I started thinking more about it. I bought the script and thought the the language (especially that of Act 3) was extremely powerful and the theme of paternal love and The American Dream was especially strong. Even during this production, there were many lines that stood out for me.
The following year, I saw Zoe Wanamaker and David Suchet in Howard Davies' revival production at the Apollo in London (also reviewed on here) which confirmed All My Sons as my favourite play.
All My Sons played at Leicester's Curve from 8th October - 14th November, 2009.
Cast: Ian Redford, Diana Kent, Phil Cheadle, Lisa Jackson, Alasdair Craig, John Dougall, Daniele Lydon, David Flynn, Emily Houghton, Zach Morley/ Henry Rowley/ Sam Sutton.
Creative: Walter Meierjohann, Steffi Wurster, Mike Gunning, Fergus O'Hare, Jean-Marc Puissant.