First written all the way back in 1946, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons is a staple in the theatre community, and after multiple revivals on Broadway and around the world, as well as two movie adaptations, it presents a unique challenge to contemporary performers to justify their own unique spin on such well-worn pages. Bedlam’s current roster provides us with another swing at Miller’s text and, for the most part, they don’t really miss, hitting all the necessary tonal beats required of them in an arguably rather challenging piece.
All My Sons follows a day in the life of the Keller family, led by the patriarch Joe Keller (Ackery), now making his living as a small business owner, following a stint in prison for a crime he claims he didn’t commit. The play drives forward at a breakneck pace, with the rest of the clan darting back and forth across the stage calling after their partners and children, all while Joe sits reading his paper, making the occasional glib remark. As the day progresses, we come to learn about the secrets that each of the family are hiding: the proposal that Chris (O’Cuinn) is planning for his newly returned neighbour Ann (Carpenter), the blind ignorance of mother Kate (Melrose) to the loss of her soldier son Larry, insisting he will return even after 3 years, and the jaded George (Basra), brother of Ann, whose accusations regarding Joe’s exoneration threaten to upset the already teetering balance of the Keller’s way of life.
The script requires its performers to lurch between emotions at a frenetic pace, rotating between casual chit chat and desperate confessions within mere seconds. There are moments when this tension is unravelled perfectly, the final conversation between Chris, Kate, Joe and Ann being a particular highlight, but at other times it does feel that the performers veer too heavily from one end of the spectrum to the other. Whilst Ackery does do a rather commendable job at screaming with dismay, there is a certain lack of restraint which robs some of the emotional punch from the moments which deserve it the most. The American accent is a tough one to pull off for any Brit, and there are definitely some performers that carried it better than others, though I did feel that, on the whole, the cast settled into things by the final act. Standout performances would have to be Melrose as Kate, who provides the emotional core of the production with a natural, believable voice, as well as Basra as George, whose explosive arrival in the second act is given just the right amount of authentic intensity to make you feel he is a real, tangible threat.
In terms of the technical aspects, there are moments wherein musical cues are used to accentuate certain interactions, and whilst at times this moody soundtrack works, at others it feels undeserved, and perhaps even unneeded when Miller’s text is already conveying things effectively. It felt great to be back in a space like the Teviot Underground, and the performance took full advantage of the surroundings, with the cast at times appearing amongst the crowd up in the balcony to jeer down at those on stage, before banging loudly down the stairs: this well-structured set lends the performance an air of dynamism that demands your attention wholeheartedly. If the rapturous applause it received at its climax is anything to go by, then the directorial team of Embleton, Harrison-Moore and Maclachlan have, largely, pulled off a pretty impressive feat, in that they have managed to render a performance of Miller that provides the chokehold over the audience it deserves, despite the obvious constraints that an amateur performance presents.
Bedlam’s current take on the proceedings comes to us at a rather unique time in history, for while we seem to be, for the most part, exiting the arduous health crisis that has defined every conversation for the last two years, the conflict in Ukraine has catapulted us right back into situations of economic hardship and questions concerning the morality of our civilisation’s power structures. What all this means is that, remarkably, the themes and emotions that Miller was attempting to convey aren’t all that dissimilar to those which, presumably, the actors were able to tap into this time around, affording the production a certain situational potency that elevates the sense of resonance within the room. The phrase oft-repeated by the characters that ‘nothing ever changes around here’, presumably meant to be something of a comfort to each other at the time, takes on a more sinister significance when you consider how the twisted notion of the American Dream hasn’t really gone anywhere since Miller first conceived of the play, making his critique, and this performance, still as necessary as ever today.
Images courtesy of Marie Rimolsrønning.