REVIEW: All My Sons at Cambridge Arts Theatre

A scene from All My Sons.

A scene from All My Sons. - Credit: Archant

Until Saturday (February 28).

This is a magnificent performance of a beautifully written play. As ever with Miller, it’s about guilt.

In Miller’s world, fathers betray their sons. Nations betray their citizens. Making money crushes everyone.

Joe Keller, played in this definitive production by Ray Shell, is a businessman who made parts for fighter planes during the Second World War. Trouble is, when the military was screaming for armaments, in desperation to keep a customer, his company supplied cylinder heads with cracks in them. The result was that 21 planes crashed killing their pilots.

The Kellers’ own son, Larry was a fighter pilot who was reported missing in the war. But Joe keeps telling himself that Larry didn’t fly the type of plane that crashed and his wife Kate, (a stella performance from Dona Croll) knows her boy can’t be dead. He just can’t be. “Because certain things have to be, and certain things can never be. That’s why there’s God. I would know.”

The deadly plane parts led to a prosecution, of course. But Joe got clean away with it. He said he was absent from the factory that day off sick. It was Joe’s partner, Deever who went to prison. The disgraced Deever’s children don’t speak to him any more.

But three years on, one August night, the plot cracks open like the cylinder heads. The Keller’s surviving son, Chris (a masterclass in relaxed, natural acting from Leemore Marrett JR) announces that he and Deever’s daughter, Ann, once Larry’s sweetheart, (a superb Kemi-Bo Jacobs) want to marry.

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They break the news just as Deever’s son George (in a powerful, nuanced performance by Ashley Gerlach) accuses Joe of making Deever take the blame for Keller’s decision.

Michael Buffong directs an ensemble cast with no weak links. Dona Kroll brings warmth and humour to the part of Kate without ever making her a caricature. Kate’s cheerful motherly love spills over to her friends and neighbour’s kids. She is the friend you always hoped you might have.

Ray Shell combines Joe’s ruthlessness with his vulnerability and Ashley Gerlach, Leemore Marrett JR and Kemi-Bo Jacobs have a delicate mastery of a whole gamut of emotions. They bring out the refreshing sanity and honesty of their younger generation characters, which is Miller’s message of hope.

The play won the American Critics’ Award in 1947. This production deserves another one. Unlike those flawed cylinder heads, it is sound as a bell.