On arriving in St. Chad’s Quad, I initially found it a confusing choice of location for the performance of a Miller classic about the horror of post-War trauma. But this was only a part of this play’s deceptive genius. Staging, acting, lighting, and all other elements are set up to invoke a false calm, and this performance is plagued by evasions and the subtle paranoid fear that comes with trauma. The fantastic choice (presumably made by director Musaab Salem and Dani Frankal) to make use of potted plants borrowed from the Botanic Gardens helped to subtly illuminate this atmosphere of cracks being hastily but elaborately paved over.
And this sense of trauma is pivotal to the plot. It revolves around the Keller family, who are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, which have been shattered from the devastation caused after World War II. There is blood on everyone’s hands in this piece, and the guilt and sense of foreboding is carefully built up in a first act which drags in places, and occasionally lacks energy, but altogether works as a marvellous slow burn which builds up to the explosive second half.
Central to the play are the parental figures, Joe and Kate Keller (played by Cameron Ashplant and Amy Porter respectively), who are both trying to come to terms with the death of their son, Larry. The minute Larry’s name is mentioned, the audience is all too familiar with the situation. Thus, an excruciating dramatic irony is created which places all of us on the edge of our seats and waiting for the unbearable moment of realisation and confrontation of the truth. And Ashplant and Porter guide us through these revelations tremendously. They both have an exceptional underlying anger which manifests itself differently: Ashplant in a very toxic masculine and overt anger, and Porter in a more typically feminine passive aggression and resentment, but both are superbly acted. Furthermore, Ashplant’s fantastic impression of a working-class London accent contrasts against Porter’s impressively consistent poise and resignation to create a relationship which is doomed from the start.
But complimenting just these two actors really is a high watermark here, as every single actor meets the demands of their role and even surpass them in many cases. Green Door Theatre Co.’s portrayal of Miller’s work is really impressive, especially considering the somewhat cramped nature of the stage. The layout of Chad’s Quad actually ends up helping the play magnificently. You’re left with a feeling of tension that comes from the unsuspecting garden-patio look of the stage, which juxtaposes excellently with the play’s violence in such a way as to reveal the ugliness of the war underneath the normality of human activity. The Quad’s geography really adds to this impression, with doors upstage which mimic conservatory doors leading back into the house, as well as a window located stage right which is used really well. Any interaction which takes place here emphasises the interference of the neighbours in the Kellers’ lives by its jarring nature, and it overall resembles some kind of dark parody of a Romeo-and-Juliet balcony scene.
This mood evoking the simple orthodoxy of family life is also reflected in the lighting, which is masterful in its subtlety. It is neutral for most of the play, though noticeably dimmer in the first part of the second half, then switches to a cool, unassuming blue in the night-time aftermath of an explosive fight between Joe and his son. This coolness and darkness implies an oncoming tragic climax, while also creating the an early-evening lull whose mellowness emphasises the neurotic panic of the characters, particularly the parents. Tech director Chris Peng deserves huge credit for the subtle yet immensely effective choices here.
Never would I have expected that somewhere as pretty and spacious could make me feel so wrapped up in the claustrophobic fog of post-War trauma, but this play achieves it, and achieves it with incredible grace and subtlety. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it left more than few members of the audience weeping. I can easily recommend this play for achieving such an impressive feat; if you want to see an example of how theatre can absolutely transport you somewhere entirely alien, then this is a must-see. And even if you don’t want that, you still have to go and see this.
Green Door Theatre Co.’s All My Sons is on 16th-17th March at 7:30pm in St. Chad’s College Quad.