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All My Sons
Apollo Theatre  Summer 2010

This is shaping up as a very strong summer of drama, due in large part to the early works of three American masters.

Joining the O'Neill and Williams at the National Theatre is a revival of Arthur Miller's first success, as powerful and satisfying a production as you could ask for, thanks to Howard Davies' strong direction and towering performances by David Suchet, ZoŽ Wanamaker and an excellent supporting cast.

Set just after the Second World War, the play centres on a manufacturer who knowingly shipped some defective airplane parts, leading to the deaths of more than forty pilots, and who is finally through roundabout means forced to face his culpability.

Two special qualities raise this above the sort of dry thesis play Miller has sometimes been accused of writing. First, he anchors the play in a solid reality of everyday life that makes the personal stories, and not just the moral lesson, grip us and matter to us.

And even more insightfully, he convinces us that the man was operating under what he saw as the moral imperative of providing for his family - that is, he did the wrong thing for what honestly seemed like overpowering right reasons, and therefore never really loses our sympathy.

To establish the first, the human reality of the story, Miller not only introduces some solidly ordinary secondary figures, but complicates the personal situation. The family lost a son in the war, and now his brother wants to marry the dead man's former fiancťe, but the mother refuses to give up hope that her elder son will reappear.

ZoŽ Wanamaker makes would could be pathetic delusion in the mother a kind of heroic dedication, particularly when we begin to realise that she is fighting to sustain a denial of other unacceptable truths as well.

Stephen Campbell Moore makes the surviving son a living, complex and sympathetic character, rather than the wooden plot device he could shrink into in less sensitive hands, and Jemima Rooper brings the girl alive as not just a pawn in the others' drama but an independent woman determined to grasp her bit of happiness.

But the evening really belongs to David Suchet as the father, fighting to retain his sense that, whatever the costs of his actions, they were the only right ones for him to have taken. Even though the character frequently has to go on the defensive, or bluffly on the offensive, Suchet never allows us to suspect a hint of conscious hypocrisy.

The man is wrong - Miller's title, implying that he should have felt loyalty to a larger human family, makes that clear. But Suchet captures and communicates Miller's tragic vision that a good man can do wrong while thinking he's doing right and still need to answer for his choices.

In this beautiful production All My Sons works on every level - as moral statement, human drama, exercise in brilliant acting and a solidly soul-satisfying evening's entertainment.

I can think of no better three nights at the theatre than the Williams, O'Neill and Miller now on offer in London.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - All My Sons - Apollo 2010