The summer season at Regents Park Open Air Theatre got off to a cracking start last night with the 20th century Arthur Miller classic All My Sons.
It’s a powerful and bold drama, wonderfully played, that’s based on a true story but given undertones of a Greek tragedy by Miller.
American drama wears its heart on its sleeve, unlike the repressed emotions in much 20th century home-grown theatre.
Timothy Sheader’s production is a powerhouse of emotion.You’re swept along on a surge fuelled by anger, recrimination, guilt and grief. There are also the bigger themes of morality, greed, and retribution.
Set in post-war America the action takes place in the yard of the Keller household.
The couple’s favourite son, pilot Larry, is three years MIA, but his distraught mother, Kate, refuses to accept that he’s dead and has put the family’s life on hold until he returns.
Larry’s brother, Chris, wants to move on and plans to marry his brother’s former sweetheart, the girl-next-door, Ann Deever, which threatens estrangement from his mother.
But more important is the back story that becomes key to the drama as the night unfolds.
Committed family man and industrialist Joe Keeler, and his partner, Ann’s dad Steve, supplied faulty airplane parts that were responsible for killing 21 pilots during WWII.
Steve was jailed for his part in the disaster but Joe was exonerated. He returned to his life in a small town community where he, and his devoted son Chris, appear to be the only people who believe he was innocent of any wrong-doing.
The storm clouds gather over the Keeler home as Chris fights his mother’s iron will. The catalyst comes with the arrival of Ann’s brother, George and a terrible secret is finally laid bare to devastating effect.
There’s an added atmosphere provided by the location. Night falls for the Keeler household and so too does it for the audience who are then buzzed by bats. Overhead planes give emphasis to this particular storyline.
The organic set has roots which reach down into the soil imitating Keeler’s own deep-rooted involvement with his family and the community.
Outwardly Joe appears to epitomise the American Dream. He’s worked hard to provide a secure future for his wife and son but its foundation, and his financial security, was created from the blood of others.
Tom Mannion gives a superbly underplayed performance as Joe. Keller seems so honest and decent, a pillar of the community. Could he be guilty of something so unimaginable? And is there a price to pay?
Brid Brennan, is utterly compelling as the grief-stricken and heart-broken Kate. You feel her pain as a mother who refuses to accept the death of a child.
There are excellent support performances, too, from Amy Nuttall as Ann and Charles Aitken as the idealistic Chris.
All My Sons runs until June 7.