Review: All My Sons

All My Sons
All My Sons

Being a big fan of Arthur Miller’s great tragedy I was very excited to see how Phoenix Theatre Company would tackle such a challenging script. In terms of the set, my first impressions of this production were very favourable indeed. As soon as the audience walk in they are thrown into the centre of American suburbia. The intricate details were very pleasing to the eye and made the set all the more believable. I especially liked how sound was playing from the start with flashes of lightning and thunder, this really helped set the mood for the opening scene and the play as a whole. Congratulations are in order for the whole backstage team, as from their side, it seemed one of the smoothest first nights I’ve seen at Durham.
As a whole, the actors succeeded in delivering their monologues. It was hard not to be swept along with the amount of emotion portrayed in Miller’s words. However, as an ensemble they seemed stilted and unsure with their interactions. Darcy van Eerten, who played Ann Deever, was an example of this. When saying her lines, she had excellent characterisation, however this was lost when she was not the main focus on stage. She frequently fell out of character and this undermined her overall performance. Dixi Taylor (Kate Keller) played a brilliant grief-stricken mother with her nervous ticks and sudden bursts of emotions, however she was also less believable in the dialogue where she seemed to concentrate more on her cues than characterisation.
My main criticism of the piece would be that it lacked the flow you would expect from Miller’s play. It is hard to put my finger on what was the main quality lacking in this production, but I would say that it was difficult to empathise with the characters because the action seemed so haphazard. I think the major problem was the lines. Actors were often talking over each other and then pausing whilst everybody tried to work out their place in the script. This meant it was hard to concentrate on the plot as you were often distracted by the stumbles. Colm Wilson, playing Jim Bayliss, should be commended for his first play in Durham but he needs to work on his stage presence. He often had his back to the audience which made it difficult to catch his lines. However, Bayliss’ wife, portrayed by Heather Garside, captured the stage whenever she was on it, successfully portraying the bitter and forgotten wife. She cleverly brought out the humour in her lines whilst still managing to maintain the overall seriousness of the piece.
Furthermore, the ensemble work in the second half started to improve as the tensions in the piece rose, which was pleasing to watch. Everybody started to react more, something that was notably missing in the first act. Wilf Wort (Joe Keller) played a convincing tragic hero and made it very difficult not to like him. His persuasive speech to Zac Tiplady (Chris Keller) half way through the second act nearly convinced me despite the flawed logic. Tiplady played an excellent tormented son and his anger and hurt towards the end of the play were completely believable. I was just disappointed that I did not feel the catharsis that Miller clearly intended his audience to feel at the end of the play. Whilst I pitied the characters, the acting was not sufficiently engaging to make me feel the fear, an audience should experience in such a play. Overall this play has many good elements and good solo performances, but what they really need to work on is their group acting to make their performance more engaging and believable. I think both the cast and crew have done well attacking this difficult classic in only two weeks, but they have a long way to go to make this piece great.

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