All My Sons
performance date: 25 Oct 2012
venue: Adel Memorial Hall, Church Lane, Adel, LS16 8DE
reviewer/s: John Anthony (Sardines review)
A lot of groups that like to take on some really serious plays have been waiting patiently for years for the performing rights to become available for this American classic. Well that time has finally come!
Arthur Miller is arguably America’s finest playwright and All My Sons, in the view of many, his finest play. So Adel Players must have approached this project with a certain amount of justifiable trepidation.
As to the play, it is the most beautifully crafted piece of writing with not a word out of place and the exposition hidden with great subtlety into the dialogue. The themes of the play are timeless and so the issues explored resonate readily with a modern audience. As for the storyline it grabs you by the throat at the outset and does not let go until the final denouement.
Of course, with a text so fantastic than anything less than a good production would be such a wasted opportunity. I have to report that on the night that I attended that Adel Players performance was not good … it was superb.
Adel Players have, as a playing space, a traditional village hall with a stage at one end. Cleverly on this occasion they decided to perform ‘in the round’ and the stage was populated with audience members. The set was a delight in its simplicity and the ‘broken tree’ in particular was extremely well realised. The two large images of P.40 Warhawk displayed on the walls added to the production values.
Now any sort of accent can pose a problem to an actor so for all ten cast members to take on an American twang was quite a challenge. I do not consider myself an expert in the field but the accents all passed muster with me.
Accents and performing ‘in the round’ can also have a detrimental effect on diction and audibility however I am pleased to report that every word was crystal clear from where I sat.
The principals Mike Andrews (Joe Keller) and Diane Newby (Kate Keller) formed a formidable and convincing partnership. Rachel Newby (Ann Deevers) was a delight as the love interest and her dresses were just perfect, not to mention the seams in her stockings which were railroad straight!
Pride of place must however go to Jon Holmes (Chris Keller) who gave a portrayal of such conviction and intensity that it was totally absorbing. The confrontation with his father at the end of the play was powerful and delivered with great honesty. A real bravura performance!
Now productions are sometimes let down by the lesser roles but not so in this case. Matthew Taylor (Bert) was very endearing and Chris Andrews (George Deevers) was excellent in his cameo role.
The direction was very astute as working ‘in the round’ in never as easy for the director as end on. The pace throughout was excellent and there was a good variety of entrances and exits.
There must be some demerits, there always are! I will not mention the two prompts just remember it is not what the audience will be talking about on the way home. In the first half all of the many entrances were slick and well-timed but in the second half two entrances were a little tardy leaving the cast on stage momentarily panic struck.
The other thing that occurred to me was that it took the cast sometime to find their feet and as a result some of the movement and delivery was a little stilted early on. To be fair by midway through the first half the entire production was running like a well tuned Aston Martin.
Now, when it comes to slapping on stage I think that you either go for it or fake it, but a half-hearted slap is a bit unsatisfactory. I am sure the health and safety police will say you have to fake it!!
Finally on the negative there were a couple of times when the words and emotions were at odds. When one protagonist says “control yourself” then the other should have lost control.
What can I say in conclusion? The last play I saw was Sheridan Smith in Hedda Gabler at The Old Vic (£50 a ticket plus booking fee!) and I can honestly and without hesitation say that I enjoyed All My Sons more. Of course if Sheridan Smith does ‘appen to turn up to Adel Memorial Hall to read for a part then my advice would be to cast her.