All My Sons
By Arthur Miller
Pegasus Theatre, 10-14.06.03

All My Sons is a powerful story about family loyalty, corporate responsibility, love, betrayal and society. It is set in a small American town, post WWII. Joe Keller runs a successful industrial manufacturing company that provided parts for the air force while his own sons were serving in the war. One of the sons goes missing, and his mother Kate desperately needs to believe that her missing son is returning one day. Chris, who came back from the war, is ready to head-up the family business and wishes to propose to Ann, the sweetheart of his missing brother, whom he has invited to visit the family home.

All My Sons was the first great success of Arthur Miller’s influential career, winning the Drama Critics Circle award. This play is an excellent vehicle for good acting, so before we even see the performance we have high expectations. One of the great things about theatre is that when you go to see a play the experience starts from the moment you enter the reception, and in this case it bears mentioning that the staff at Pegasus are friendly and cheerful, and once you enter the theatre you know you are about to see a show where everyone is taking care to do their part and do it well. It’s that “people” aspect that separates theatre from just going to see a movie.

The set takes you right into the world of the Kellers, built as it is around the destruction of a peaceful facade. Neighbours share a peaceful moment reading the morning newspaper while there is debris and a broken apple tree on the lawn from the storm the night before. The music creates an atmosphere of somehow ominous calm, and the lighting effectively changes the tone of each scene. The set is meticulously crafted, and there is nothing here without purpose: you even strain to see the photographs behind the screen door.

This is a play about universal themes: “Once and for all you must know that there’s a universe of people outside, and you’re responsible to it.” It’s relevant today after the recent Iraq war: do we put our family first, our country first, or the world? Who are we fighting for? This is an intense play, and the theatre is hot (tip: wear a t-shirt or you’ll be sorry), but during intermission everyone looked relaxed and stood about discussing the performance.

This production is an excellent ensemble performance; here, you have the rare chance to really forget that you’re a member of the audience as you feel the characters’ torment and become caught up in their world. Every actor has the opportunity to have their moment on stage, and they all deliver, conveying the full complexity of each character. Rachel O’Connor gives an outstanding performance as Kate Keller. You feel her struggle as a mother and wife, wanting what’s right in the world. Luke Smith as Joe Keller is also excellent, though you might not have believed him to be a 61-year-old man (but there must of course be a little leeway given in this direction when watching a student production). In the second act he is simply brilliant, with an explosively powerful delivery: if you pay attention you can actually feel the sound hit you! Robert Fried the director develops Arthur Miller’s text carefully, bringing it alive whilst allowing the characters to develop fully and the audience to become absorbed in their emotions.

This classic piece of modern theatre is a great watch, and with a professional, even performance by the entire cast from Oxford School of Drama, it’s a great night out at the theatre.

Rebekah Roy, 10.06.03

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