Review from the Magazine of the Parish Church St. John-at-Hampstead

In 1947, the exposure of those who had profited by the war was a popular theme. But the significance of All My Sons cannot be confined to the period in which it was written; then, the New York Times compared it to Ibsen, but its theme goes back to the Orestaia and to Freud's view of the human condition, deeply betrayed by our expectations of the family, and, notably, of our parents. The story is one of Nemesis, of the past taking revenge on the present, and of the consequences in misery of a father's crime. The power of the play (and certainly John Hester's perceptive production of it was powerful) lies in the impact of its archetypes, and, like its sister The Crucible, in its moral rigour. All the family suffers for the father's sin. With such primeval elements, it is not surprising that the play has lasted well, or that it was an apt choice for production in church.


I do not wish to suggest that it is a faultless treatment of its theme. Arthur Miller gave two years to its composition; the result is a relentless concentration on the gradual exposition of disaster, very effective, but making for a shattering evening, particularly with such moving individual performances. The cast were right to use all their skills to work on us, but there was little relief, apart from delightful cameo performances by Henry Johnson King, as the doctor's little boy, his (real and feigned) father Emile King, and a more disturbing mother, Katherine Reed, who, between them, gave us an alternative account of what a normal family is like.


The principal roles were, of course, entrusted to our stars, who fully justified their casting. The most impressive was our previous Lady Macbeth, Patrice Dorling, who commanded the world of maternal delusion and rising hysteria with a tragic power that could not fail to move the audience and an elegance of bearing and dress that kept us all on her side. Nicholas White, whose capacity for sinister suggestion was recently deployed in Richard III, made a wholly convincing victim of his own greed and negligence. David Gardnor achieved levels of unhappiness and frustration that could not fail to move us. Venus Ruskin, as a newcomer to the Players, precipitated the tragedy by coming into the closed circle with a disastrous message. The smaller parts were carried off effectively by Jeremy Hudson, Nigel Bee, and Sarah Barron.


Of those off-stage, Joan Barton must be praised for her wonderful sense of period costume, and Howard Hudson for his authentic realization, with Maggie Willmer, of an American back yard. But all the resources of the Friends of the Drama were assembled to support this distinguished production, even the House Manager (Gaynor Bassey)'s mobile phone!


May I, though dazzled by this play, offer a small plea to the Committee? Shakespeare in the summer is a marvellous initiative. Long may it last! But does this mean we are frequently to be deprived of British authors in November?

Alan Goodison

 

 

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