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All My Sons

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
The implication of a presidential press conference that John Dove prefixes his production of Arthur Miller’s astonishingly prescient 1947 play has become a familiar sight, both in the liberal fiction of The West Wing and the increasingly hollow spectacle of the real thing. It’s the only symbolic nod to the contemporary global significance of a play which not only looks at the personal aftermath of war, but gradually lays bare the tragic consequences of diminished responsibility and self-denial that have made the current state of play so dishonourably grotesque. But then, Miller’s sense of dramatic largesse is so grand that any attempt to polemicise things would have been misguidedly overegged. Even so, in the absence of any new drama that has yet made sense of the world’s current state, All My Sons, produced, let’s not forget, a mere two years after World War Two, will have to do.

Keller family patriarch Joe basks on the midsummer lawn with the neighbours while Momma Kate quietly but fatalistically calls the shots indoors. Son Chris has his sights set on pretty girl-next-door Ann, and, but for the storm that brought the tree planted in memory of Chris’ fallen pilot sibling Larry, all is well in this picket-fence post-war world. Gradually, however, the fragile peace turns into a slowly festering war of attrition that adds fuel to a near pathological craving for justice from Ann’s brother George.

Dove’s cast do wonders with the material, with every line uttered by Stuart Milligan’s bluff but vulnerable Joe and Kathryn Howden’s brittle, fussbudget Kate adding up to one great big negotiation of personal survival and self-preservation. Blood relatives and neighbours can only acquiesce from the truth for so long, and the simmering resentment of those who’ve not quite had it so good eventually strikes like the lightning that blew Larry’s tree down. As Sue Bayliss, Meg Fraser may only have one scene of note, but she pretty much acts everyone offstage in a masterclass of tight-lipped disappointment which in itself speaks volumes about the sheer human waste of bad decisions denied to the last.

The Herald, January 15th 2007

ends

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