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

A tale of family fortunes

all my sons

Family on the brink: Mary O'Toole as Kate Keller, Karen Whittingham as girlfriend Annie Deever, John Lucock as Joe Keller and Robert Gotch (standing) as son Chris.

All my sons

Dudley Little Theatre

Netherton Arts Centre


BELIEF is a strange thing. Take Kate Keller; it is August 1946 and as long as she believes her pilot son Larry, missing in action since 1943, is still alive she won’t have to confront a truth that echoes far beyond his death.

Her unshakable belief is the shaky foundation for the Keller Family. There is Joe, the patriarch, owner of a successful engineering company in small town America somewhere in the Mid-West.

Then there is son Chris, who idolizes his father and who returned from the war with his own  survivor’s guilt and uncertainty, having lost his entire company of men in action.

And behind it all we have Larry, unseen, undoubtedly dead, but kept alive by his mother, symbolically the tree which was planted in the garden as his memorial has blown down during the night of the morning the play opens.

John Lucock gives a convincing performance as Joe, the self-made businessman, king of all he surveys, indulging his wife’s belief Larry will one day return home. He’s reached his 60s with the prospect of a comfortable life ahead of him – a life that is about to become very uncomfortable indeed.

Mary O’Toole is equally believable as Kate, fussing around and clinging to a past where in truth she is still living, a time when Larry was still around. She has even kept all his clothes in his closet with all his shoes neatly shined.

Robert Gotch gives us a troubled Chris, after the war he knows the world has changed yet back home not only does everything seem the same but people want to keep it that way, which somehow does not seem right.

He has invited Annie to visit from New York, Larry’s old girlfriend, to ask her to marry him – a move that will made demands on his mother to accept Larry is not coming back and Annie, and Chris, are moving on.

Karen Whittingham does a splendid job as Ann, which is hardly the easiest part demanding a whole raft of emotions.

Ann’s father Steve, Joe’s partner, is in jail after 21 pilot’s died in planes with defective cylinder heads supplied by Joe and Steve’s company. Steve was found guilty, Joe was innocent, or, perhaps, asgeroge and kate many believed, he merely got away with it.

Enter George, played with clever changes of feelings by Ben Martin Savage. He is Annie’s brother, always a serious boy and now a lawyer, who has just been to see his father in prison for the first time since he was convicted two years ago and the scene is set for a dramatic finale which could blow the families apart.

Ben Martin Savage as George Deever and Mary O'Toole as Kate

Around the main protagonists we have the neighbours, Lydia, in her late 20s, who was George’s love interest before he left town, played by Claire Hetherington. She is always cheerful, lightening the mood, while her husband Frank, played by James Silvers, is equally cheery, studying horoscopes to prove Larry couldn’t have died on the day he went missing because it was his favorable day.

Then there is Jim, a successful doctor, who is bored with domesticity and wants to do medical research, but needs must and doctoring pays the bills. His wife Sue, played by Rebecca Clee, resents Chris for encouraging her husband’s higher ambitions and in an unexpected outburst sows the seeds of doubt of guilt and innocence in Ann’s mind.

As in all Miller’s plays the supporting characters are never there for padding, their asides, contributions and actions all add a little more flesh to the skeleton of the plot, building story and tension, and the support here is excellent.

One of the difficulties of Arthur Miller’s plays or indeed any from the pens of the great American writers is just that, they are American, which demands American accents and just as we often cringe at Americans attempting English accents – remember Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins – I know they do the same when we attempt theirs.

So all we can ask is that the accents are both consistent and sound more or less convincing to our ears and, in general the cast managed that well enough to hardly notice the accents after the first few minutes. The stage, with its clapperboard set had become a garden in small town America.

Frank Martino’s direction managed the tricky job of keeping up a good pace while giving the illusion of a slow, gentle, lazy, August Sunday morning. He also helps build the growing tension well to the explosive, emotional finale.

One small point though; when there is an obvious wardrobe mishap, surely someone on stage could have come up with a covering line, all in character, and taken the second or two needed to sort it out instead of leaving an unnecessary distraction for the audience?

The play, Miller’s second on Broadway - his first ran for just four performances - is based upon a true story of a wartime case involving defective aero engines from a factory in Ohio sold to the military.

It might be 68 years old now but it is still a gripping, well-constructed drama full of very human, fears, loyalties and emotions and a cast of nine have done a fine job of telling a tale which deserved a far larger audience to be listening. To 12-09-15

Roger Clarke


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