All My Sons
Old Vic, London ★★★☆☆
THIS is a super-starry revival of Arthur Miller’s first great play with Sally Field, Bill Pullman, Jenna Colman and Colin Morgan, but what’s really interesting about Jeremy Herrin’s production is how determinedly restrained it is: three hours of quiet, largely impeccably observed naturalism.
Pullman plays Joe Keller, a former factory owner acquitted over selling defective parts to the US airforce that caused the deaths of 21 pilots and who is now enjoying a monied retirement while his former partner languishes in prison. Joe and wife Kate (Field) also lost a son, Larry, in the war, yet Kate clings like ivy to the possibility he is still alive, much to the frustration of their younger son Chris (Morgan), who needs her to accept Larry is dead so he can marry his brother’s former sweetheart Ann (a gleaming Colman).
Field arguably gives the performance of the night here: frail, tenacious, conniving, she combines emotional fragility with an iron determination that the narrative she has constructed to enable her to carry on living will be maintained. Yet grief also covers this family like netting, tamping down the action in a slow first half, until Ann’s feverishly vengeful brother George arrives, intent on righting the wrong he believes the Kellers have inflicted, and releasing that family’s buried half-truths.
The slow pace of Herrin’s production exposes rather than conceals the play’s cracks. All My Sons is both a critique of the moral compromises demanded by capitalism and a study in the price of self-delusion, in the lies you can live with, and the truths you cannot — yet Pullman’s folksy but remote, mumbly performance never quite brings either into sufficient focus.
Thank goodness for a quietly blistering Morgan, who finally lands the production’s tragic force, as a young idealist forced into an explosive reckoning with the betrayals of an older generation. It’s going to send his wattage off the charts.