Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

kste snf \joe

American Gothic like, Liz Berriman as Kate and Richard Clarke as Joe

All My Sons

Sutton Arts Theatre


In any list of the greatest plays and playwrights of the twentieth, or indeed any century, Arthur Miller would be in there along with his masterful work, All My Sons.

It is a powerful, emotional drama needing powerful, emotional performances and it gets them in spades from this marvellous cast and exceptional production at Sutton Arts.

Perhaps it is because I know the play well that there is an underlying tension from the opening scene to the dramatic end as Joe Keller first surveys his storm damaged property and finally surveys his storm damaged life.

No matter, the tension was there. That feeling that all was not quite right and we were only allowed to see the surface gloss of the Keller household, but never what was lurking beneath that shiny veneer..

Joe, played with a self confident air by Richard Clarke (no relation), is the epitome of the American Dream, the little man with little education made good, becoming a captain of industry, a prominent figure in his leafy, wealthy neighbourhood.

Clarke achieves the difficult balance of a Joe who is master of his own universe with a growing and expanding engineering business, yet is beset by demons of the past, always feeling he has to justify himself, even at the last when excuses and reasons have the hollow scent of desperation as Joe's American Dream is laid bare

annie and chris

Christopher Commander as Chris with Amy White as Ann

His wife Kate, a magnificent performance from Liz Berriman, is, should we say, a psychiatrist’s dream. The play was written in 1946 and set when it opened on Broadway in 1947 as the world was recovering from a war; except Kate was far from recovering – she was hoping. Her pilot son Larry had been listed as missing on a mission over the China seas three and a half years ago. He was officially dead to all but Kate who clung to her own futile belief that he was alive and would return home.

It was a belief seemingly so strong that she had enlisted neighbour Frank, played with a sort of nerdy enthusiasm by Ollie Farrelly, to work out Larry’ stars on the day he went missing. According to Frank, who saw astrology as scientific fact, if the stars made it a favourable day for Larry then he must be alive. Apparently, in the world of astrology the chances of dying on your favourable day are a million to one.

Then there is son Chris, another fine performance from Christopher Commander. Chris is heir to the Keller empire by birth, but not inclination. He has doubts, scruples and the sort of integrity that takes the shine off the all-American dream.

He has invited Annie Deever from New York, Larry’s girlfriend, at least she was. Annie, played with wonderful layers of emotion by Amy White, brings with her the threat of danger and the seeds of an inevitable clash with Kate. The families had been neighbours but the Deevers had moved 700 miles away to New York. Chris’s invite is the drama’s blue touchpaper.

The final protagonist in all of this is George, Annie’s brother, cleverly played with a difficult mix of belligerence, anger and polite civility by Harry Robbins. George, now a New York lawyer is the son of Joe’s old partner, Steve Deever.

Without giving too much away, Steve is in jail, a fate Joe had escaped . . . just. It is a situation, a bad memory, a constant thought which runs through everyone’s life like an endlessly dripping tap. We never see Steve and nor did Annie or George, who had cut him out of their lives . . . until George made a visit to see him in prison that day, creating fear and worry in Joe. When George then called on the Kellers the bandage is ripped off and the festering sore beneath exposed.

Around this family at war are peripheral, yet important figures, such as next door neighbour Lydia, played as a rather fun, dizzy blonde by Keyleigh Alison. Lydia was George’s girl until Steve was jailed and his wife and children left the shame and scandal behind and moved to New York.


Harry Robbins as George

She married Frank, and now has three kids. Kate, helpfully, tells George that Lydia was his and she is one that got away. Just the thing his tormented mind wants to hear.

On the other side of the Keller’s are Dr Jim Bayliss and his wife Sue. They bought Steve’s house when the family moved away. Jim, played with curmudgeonly charm by Simon Baker, is a man who finds doctoring would be fine if it wasn’t for the inconvenience of patients. He would much rather earn less and do more for his fellow man by carrying out research.

He comes round to the Keller’s constantly, seemingly as Joe’s best friend, but, you suspect, more to escape his wife, Sue, played with commanding efficiency by Jayne Lunn. She keeps Jim on the straight and financial narrow. Acting as his receptionist, and, it seems, his organiser, she points out that some patients calling up might not be ill at all, but their ten dollars to go and hold their hand is worth just the same as the money from someone who really needs a doctor. . . . so off you go, Jim.

On the periphery, seemingly just a distraction, is young Bert, played by Peter Barker. Bert is eight, lives in the neighbourhood, and comes around to play with Joe – strange in modern times - the Twitterati would have a field day - but Miller had a point to make, a subtle addition to the plot.

Joe had convinced Bert he was a detective, with a jail in the basement, and had made Bert a policeman, who was to report to him each day.

It seems a stupid inclusion. Bert appears twice, The first time sets the scene of an eight year old playing a harmless, stupid game with a 61 year old neighbour.

The second appearance though, elicits a furious reaction from an already agitated Kate, who throws Bert out and screams that there is no jail. By that seemingly incongruous, if angry, scene, Miller had made his point and Kate had let her guard slip for just that tiny, explosive moment. There was no jail.

This is a train crash of a drama, opening with pleasantries on a hot summer day, yet as the day goes on the drama is slowly picking up speed, slowly heading out of control until it finally jumps the tracks and lays waste to all around with the unseen and dead Larry having the oh so final word.

Director Fay Hatch has controlled the inevitable crash well, the build up is measured and the characters believable as each layer is slowly peeled away to leave characters and the truth with nowhere to hide.

The staging is fairly straightforward with a single set and  as usuual, SAT's set building team have gone the extra mile to produce an effect and convincing American yard, designed by Paul Wescott, Faye Hatch and Mark Nattrass.

Theatre a simple pursuit. it is merely story telling, the actors tasked with bringing the words to life and sometimes the only difference between amateur and professional is whether the players are paid or not. This is such an occasion. The words are not only given life they become lived on stage in a magnificent production of a classic. To 16-09-23.

Roger Clarke


Sutton Arts

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