All My Sons
The Octagon, Howell Croft south
Until October 24
AT a time when the American Dream suddenly seems a possibility, rather than something to be scoffed at, the heart-wrenching tragedy of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons casts a sombre note.
Set, and first performed, just after the end of the Second World War, its exploration of guilt and blame, and its brutal look at the results of allowing greed to get the better of a man, still feel horribly relevant.
George Irving plays Joe Keller, the businessman accused, then acquitted at the expense of his partner, of causing the deaths of 21 American soldiers after his company shipped out faulty aeroplane parts in order not to lose a government contract.
And yet this is no weasley man, no wormy coward.
He is larger than life, charming, charismatic and bullish.
He is defiant until the end, which makes his final collapse all the worse. It may be right, but that doesn’t mean it is easily acceptable.
If Irving’s Joe is the energy at the centre of the drama, then Margot Leicester’s Kate Keller is its heart. Kate’s refusal to accept that the couple’s son Larry, a pilot reported missing in action, is in fact dead is a huge factor in the family’s fate.
And yet even when it seems to everyone watching that to avoid disaster she simply must realise the truth, we know that as in Greek tragedy her course is set, and there is no turning back.
Chris Keller, Larry’s brother, may realise that Larry won’t be coming back, but he has his own blind spot when it comes to the matter of his father’s guilt. Oscar Pearce captures his optimism, his conviction that we can all be better, and the hint of a dark secret — the suggestion that having seen so much bloodshed during the war, Chris has come home irrevocably changed.
He too tries desperately to hang on to his hope until the very end. But Miller is unflinching, and no-one escapes unscathed.
As the supporting cast look on, the effect is similar to watching a house of cards fall down.
The play manages that rare trick — to transport you away from the theatre, to make you unaware of the person sitting next to you, and to wrap you up so tightly in the characters’ world that you forget these are actors on a stage. It is a bold, gutsy, terribly moving play that left me sobbing.
Even the cast, as they stood to take their bows, seemed to have difficulty shaking it off.
David Thacker has certainly wasted no time in putting his stamp on the Octagon, and if everything else in the coming season is as good as this, then long may he reign.
To book visit octagonbolton.co.uk or ring 01204 520661