All My Sons, Apollo Theatre, London’s West End, September 2010

For a fistful of dollars would a man supply defective equipment to the front line of his own side in a war? Yes, because those dollars provide for his family, his sons, and his largesse to his neighbours. Such crooks can be good family men — think of the Mafia barons. But in this play, Joe Keller — brilliantly portrayed by David Suchet — is a warm character who loves everyone and would never stoop to any such shenanigans. Or so it appears. Arthur Miller wrote the play in 1945, and honed it to perfection before releasing it in 1947. Miller was a craftsman, with his hands as well as his pen, and saw this play as a make or break for him. It’s as close to perfection as you can get, and with direction by Howard Davies and a beautiful set by William Dudley, along with superb acting by the whole cast, it must be the best thing on the West End stage at the moment.

Zoë Wanamaker and David Suchet, photo by Nobby Clark

The play revolves around one character, Larry, who’s never on stage. He’s the son who disappeared during the war, but there was no body, no proof that he died, and his mother Kate — beautifully played by Zoë Wanamaker — refuses to believe he’s gone forever. She even gets a neighbour to construct an astrological chart to show he couldn’t have died on the day he disappeared. Stephen Campbell Moore was superb as the other son, Chris who survived the war, showing him to be the most reasonable, level-headed character you could imagine, and Jemima Rooper as the late Larry’s sweetheart Ann Deever was equally wonderful. They want to get married, but Kate won’t have it while Larry is still alive, and if she admits he’s dead . . . well her whole world will crash down. Why? When Daniel Lapaine as Ann’s brother George flies in to stop the marriage the audience hears another side of the story. Ann and George’s father, who was once Joe’s neighbour and business associate, went to prison for producing that defective equipment but George has just visited him and now thinks he’s innocent. Was he imprisoned unjustly? Can the wonderful, homely Joe Keller be the real culprit?

Ann, Joe, Chris and Kate, photo by Nobby Clark

Surely not, and they talk George round into being reasonable, until he eventually says, “I never felt at home anywhere but here”. But there’s more to come, including the issue of the impending marriage, and Kate’s denial that Larry is dead. So Ann is finally forced to bring out a letter from Larry she carries with her, and this leads to the final dénouement.

David Suchet, Zoë Wanamaker, and the others were so natural, I believed all the emotions I saw on display, and Miller’s play has a deft logic that packs a huge emotional punch. I came out feeling utterly drained . . . and I was merely in the audience! How do the actors do it — night after night?

Unfortunately there are very few nights left, as the run ends on October 2nd. It’s a sell-out of course, but worth any number of phone calls and trips to the theatre to get returns.

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