This year Rapture Theatre celebrates Arthur Miller’s centenary with All My Sons, an extremely competent and engaging production of a very significant play. The show focuses on two families, previously close, split apart by tragedy during the Second World War. In the first act we meet and learn about these characters, whilst in the second revelations about the past spark fresh trauma.
As you enter the auditorium the scene is already set. The backdrop is a large, typically southern, wooden house. In front an astro-turf lawn dotted with furniture, completed by a veranda and quintessential rocking chair. The set is unchanged throughout the show and all action takes place in this small part of suburban America that represents it all.
The lights come up to a boy flying a paper aeroplane before looking up to gaze at the real thing roaring overhead. This is a good point to commend the sound design for blending well with the rest of the setting. Two returning sounds are children playing and the engine of a plane, each reflecting the cause of the troubles, the death of twenty-one pilots thanks to the business of the heads of each family.
Through the father-son relationship of Joe and Chris Keller, themes of an older generation’s family values come into conflict with the ideal of brotherhood with all men. It is this family relationship of the Kellers that is the best constructed. Trudie Goodwin and Robert Jack each put in hair raising performances, playing to the truth of the characters as well as general post war feelings. It is a testament to the production as a whole that the first act engages our sympathy with the characters while constrained by a single location and a single time.
However, it is the standout acting of Paul Shelley (playing Joe Keller) that carries the weight of this performance. In the first act he is the sympathiser that only wants ‘everyone to be happy’. Particularly touching is the time spent playing detective with Bert, a young boy played admirably by the eight year old Wesley Wilson. The supporting cast also boasts wonderful work, in particular that of David Tarkenter whose professional and comfortable playing of Dr Jim Bayliss possesses an unmatchable authenticity. Some of the ensemble had trouble with the necessary American accent, Scottish being hard to hide, but this was never enough to affect the otherwise impeccable performance.
The play takes significant issue with a world where people make money off the back of war and death. This cannot fail to be relevant today when our government continues to play host to arms fairs selling to countries with abysmal human rights records. Miller’s play presents this on a more personal scale, where the family of mankind does not yet stretch beyond America’s sons and daughters. In the Kellers world there is still a very masculine tradition, one that knows it must be left behind but cannot be ignored for the products, profits, and freedoms we still enjoy today.
All My Sons offers critique of this, but also provides cathartic relief. This is an altogether entertaining show, put on by a wonderful cast with skilled direction. The important messages sing across as loud as they did nearly seventy years ago when it was first put on. I would highly recommend seeing it as well as The Last Yankee, Rapture Theatre’s other celebration of Miller’s work, coming to Summerhall in the first week of October.
By Ben Schofield as part of Young Perspective's arts team in Edinburgh headed by Tabby James.