First published in The Times, Monday February 25 2019
Jemima Levick is the ideal person to helm this revival of All My Sons. The former artistic director of Dundee Rep has confessed that she wasn’t the greatest admirer of Arthur Miller’s first major success when she was asked to return to her former place of work to direct the 1947 play. Yet her production does exactly what a good revival of a classic should do: it invites its audience to look at a familiar work with fresh eyes.
The first significant departure lies in the staging. Where most revivals tend to place Miller’s tragedy within a naturalistic setting, where the clapboard gleams, the summer lawn hisses and you can almost taste the home-made grape juice, Alex Lowde’s design for Levick’s production is strikingly minimalist. The action plays out on a large, open platform, encircled by metal trellises and skeletal trees, including the one planted for Larry, the Keller family’s elder son, missing in action for three-and-a-half years and presumed dead. As the play opens, the tree has been uprooted in a storm.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
The starkness of this backdrop doesn’t always make sense. The atmosphere is almost wintry at times, which jars with the characters’ descriptions of the sticky mid-western heat, and there is a sudden downpour at the moment of maximum drama that feels more distracting than necessary.
Nevertheless, as in Levick’s 2010 production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, for which Lowde reconfigured the Rep’s auditorium into a white space, the simple framework allows for an invigorating emphasis on the detail and nuance of the writing and performances. The director choreographs the action beautifully, from tense group scenes to the most intimate moments.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Among the leads, Barrie Hunter is low-key and watchful as Joe Keller, the businessman who gets rich off the back of selling faulty cylinder heads to the air force (resulting in the deaths of 21 pilots). There are strong, sympathetic performances, too, from Daniel Cahill as Chris, Joe’s decent younger son, Amy Kennedy as Ann, the daughter of Joe’s incarcerated former partner, who seeks release from their families’ shared past, and Irene Macdougall as Kate, Joe’s wife, laden down with grief and the knowledge of her husband’s guilt. A particular strength of Levick’s production is that it pays equal care to peripheral characters, including Antony Strachan’s Dr Jim Bayliss, haunted by his youthful idealism, and Emily Winter as his resentful wife.