All My Sons
13th April 2018
Electric Theatre, Guildford
Type of Production
Author: Jane Turner
Arthur Miller is rightly regarded as one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century and this is one of his most popular plays, written in 1947. It is a highly-charged, emotional play, starting in a gentle, family environment but building the tension as it progressed and ending in a shocking climax which, as it got closer, was not unexpected.
The cast were excellent. Mark Ashdown (Joe Keller), head of the family and all things to all people, his wife Kate (Laura Sheppard) and their son Chris (Steve Graham), appear on the surface to be a harmonious, normal family. It soon transpires that underlying this mundane façade there lurks a well of pain and deception linked to the apparent death of their other son, Larry, in a missing aircraft during the war. Kate refuses to believe he has been killed and longs for a sign that he is still alive. She refuses to sanction Chris marrying Ann Deever (Catherine Ashdown), one-time fiancée of Larry. Add to this the fact that Joe owns a factory that made parts for aircraft, and that his partner and old friend, Steve Deever, Ann’s father, has been jailed for sending out faulty parts, leading to the deaths of many airmen, and the tension soon builds.
A sapling, planted when Larry went missing, has been blown down during a storm, giving rise to the suggestion that Larry is indeed dead, which his mother still refuses to accept.
Steve Graham played the part of the remaining son, Chris, as something of a gentle giant, loyal to his parents and sympathising with his mother while trying to convince her that his brother is truly dead. He gave a very strong performance, full of tension and anguish. Ann Deever treads a difficult path, affectionate towards Chris and trying to soothe her future in-laws while remaining tactful. Catherine Ashdown was very convincing in the role, moving from light to shade, coping with every situation.
Enter George Deever (Paul Baverstock), Ann’s brother and son of Steve, the jailed friend and partner, whom he has just visited. He reveals that his father told him that Joe was aware of the defective parts but instructed him to disguise them and then feigned sickness to avoid going to the factory, thus enabling him to blame Steve. Joe denies these accusations but after George has left, he admits to Chris, in front of Kate, that George’s story is true.
Chris is horrified, both that his father was complicit in the deception and that he lied to put Steve behind bars and then made a fortune for himself after the war. In the meantime, Ann reveals a letter Larry wrote to her the day before his death in which he tells her that he intended to commit suicide out of the shame he felt for his father’s guilt. Joe realises that not only was he responsible for the deaths of many young men, but also, indirectly, his own son.
Everything starts to fall apart and Joe and Kate’s relationship disintegrates. Joe goes upstairs, pretending that he will hand himself in to the authorities. Kate persuades Chris and Ann to leave and start afresh somewhere else, to get away from the guilt that has devastated the family. A gunshot is heard. Joe has shot himself. Kate’s grief is tangible and her pain and misery overflow into the audience as she falls, sobbing, to her knees, leaving the audience holding their breath before they rose to their feet to acclaim her remarkable performance.
This was a brilliant production, well up to the standard we have come to expect from Guildburys. Director Robert Sheppard brought out the best in everyone, keeping the pace going and the tension mounting right up to the end. It must have been demanding emotionally and physically to sustain the mood of foreboding and suspense. Congratulations to everyone involved in bringing this complex play to life.