“From event to moral consequence to personal calamity”
Edinburgh theatregoers can salute one of the 20th century’s greatest playwrights this week, as Scottish company Rapture Theatre bring Arthur Miller’s All My Sons to the King’s Theatre. Marking the end of their month-long tour of Scottish cities, Rapture’s production does not disappoint and ensures that Miller’s 1947 play still hits home. This week’s breaking news of Volkswagen AG marketing dodgy car engines in US is an unlooked for dividend. At the heart of Miller’s plot are faulty cylinder heads shipped out to the Pacific ‘theatre’ during WWII. High diesel emissions don’t kill outright but Joe Keller’s cracked engine blocks killed twenty-one pilots.
The backyard set is minimal, portable yet effective, and closes tight around the Kellers as the story is stitched together. It felt a little uncomfortable at first but grew familiar, with more ‘give’ as the actors took hold. Paul Shelley as Joe Keller gives a commendable performance in that epitome of Miller roles: the grafter with no college education behind him who has managed to make it from shop floor to Board room. It is easy to believe in the image of the honest family man but that only adds to the effect of the sudden breakdown in relations with his second son, Chris. Equally credible, but with good reason, Trudie Goodwin is the heartbroken Kate Keller, a mother unwilling to accept the fact that her first son, Larry, did not come marching home. That grim acronym ‘MIA’, missing in action, is stamped all over the fate of Mr and Mrs Keller.
Robert Jack’s portrayal of Joe’s son Chris is especially notable and is the role to underline. A far cry from his Jacko in Gary: Tank Commander, Jack’s performance grows through each scene and his electric presence on stage is almost palpable. Deliberately more contained in the first act, Jack developed Chris’ character in such a way that the audience couldn’t help but be drawn into his hope for love, and subsequent devastation at the discovery of his father’s actions.
Throughout the play, sound effects are used to bring back the past as characters are reminded of their time as children back home in the yard. While an interesting idea, this often sounded clunky, and the nostalgia broke off from the rest of the production.
Despite some disappointing and/or distracting American accents from supporting cast members, which is often a big ask to get right, director Michael Emans does deliver the goods. The three central performances by Shelley, Goodwin and Jack are well sustained and the ‘unwinding’, as Miller put it, from event to moral consequence to personal calamity is unforgiving and inescapable.
Rapture Theatre are currently showcasing their Arthur Miller season in Scotland and will be at Summerhall with The Last Yankee next month.
Reviewer: Rachel Cram (Seen 22 September)
Go to All My Sons at the King’s here
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