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

Slow fuse to an explosion

Family at war: Keith Tompson as Joe the father, left, with Louise Broad as the mother Kate and Jacob Fazio as the son Chris

All My Sons

Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Swan Theatre, Worcester


ARTHUR Miller wrote plays like an artist paints pictures. He sketches a few outlines on to a blank canvas and then layer by layer he adds detail, colour and form until at the end we have the complete picture.

All My Sons, from 1947, was set a year earlier, just after the Second World War, a time of growth and optimism, of returning heroes and a little resentment at profiteering from war in the USA and was based on a true story spotted by Miller’s mother in a newspaper.

Joe and Kate Keller live a comfortable life in small town America. Joe has a successful engineering business and a war hero son, Chris while Kate is, well, Kate.

She still believes her other son Larry, whose aircraft went missing more than three years ago, is somehow still alive.

Back into their lives comes Anne Deever, Larry’s old girlfriend, and later George, her brother and with each character comes more detail to colour in the full picture.

Keith Thompson as Joe is making Americans a specialty after playing George in STAC’s excellent Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? And he is totally believable as the successful Joe, a big gregarious bear of a man hiding a dark secret behind a wall of bon homie.

Louise Broad gives us a flakey Kate in the first act but her character gets stronger, although no saner, as the play goes on to her crucial part in the dramatic climax. The opening, with Kate looking lost and bewildered, a sort of dreamy aerobics, was a little confusing. We later discovered it was to imply she was a couple of pence short of a shilling but we would have spotted that without the visual aids.

And Broad gives us a woman who never seems quite at home in the present, her life is trapped in her pilot son, missing in action in 1943, who she cannot accept is dead, and a terrible secret she carries.

Anne, Poppy Cooksy-Heyfron with Chris in a love affair which seems doomed

The same secret which Joe shares after he was exonerated on appeal after being jailed after 21 pilots died in crashes just before their son died, deaths attributed to cracked cylinder heads sent out by Joe’s factory.

His partner Steve was jailed in the affair and we discover it is his daughter Anne that Chris hopes to marry. Poppy Cooksey-Heyfron is a sweet, pretty thing of an Ann who sees good wherever she can and who gave up hopes of Larry returning a long time ago, despite Kate’s urging to wait for him.

She has never seen or spoken to her jailed father who was blamed for the deaths, and since the family moved away after he was jailed had heard nothing of how he was until that is brother George, newly qualified lawyer, all anger and aggression arrives fresh from jail and the first visit to his father in three years, accusing Joe of a cover up.

Jimmy Corbett is making his first appearance on stage, not that you would have known it with a confident performance, clashing with Chris, played by University of Worcester theatre student Jacob Fazzio, who had the big advantage in the accent department of being a study abroad student from the USA.

Not that the accents were bad mind you, a little variable in places with the odd Welsh or Irish inflection here and there, but all in all pretty consistent and believable, so much so that if you were told one of the cast was American you might be pushed to decide which one.

This is a play where not a lot happens, one simple set designed by Peter Read, which depends entirely upon the words and the actors, and in the hands of director Tim Crow it develops a nice rhythm building up the tension scene by scene to the climax, and in the intimate confines of the studio we are in the back yard by the Colonial porch of the Keller house. The feel for the period is helped by authentic looking 40's costumes from Hannah Bockbrader and Joanna Crow.

There is good support from the neighbours, Tom Martin as Jim, the doctor, who doesn’t seem to like patients, who has moved into the old Deever house next door along with his wife Sue, who calls a spade a spade with a smile with the odd turn of the knife along the way.

On the other side are are the Lubey family with Cora, George’s ex-girlfriend who married soon after he went off to war and, three years later, has three childen – they didn’t have satellite TV in those days.

Chris squares up to George, played by Jimmy Corbett with Georg'e sister Ann as referee

Cora is a picture of domesticity while her husband Frank, played by STAC newcomer Lewis Jones, managed to avoid the draft at every turn by being always a year older than the call up age.

He is into astrology and convinces Kate that son Larry could not have died because his stars were favourable on the day he went missing. Sadly for Lewia Anne has an explosive piece of paper that trumps his well researched charts. A paper which is virtually a double death sentence.

A honorable mention too for  Swan Youth Theatre member Ben Sears who plays Bert who has been made an honorary policeman by Joe.

Miller is both difficult and easy for actors, easy in that the parts are something an actor can get their teeth into, characters with depth and hidden traits, characters actors can grow into, yet his plays are difficult in that the actors have to tell their story with little in the way of action. They control the pace, create the necessary tension and keep the interest with just Miller’s words to help them, and they did him proud. To 15-03-14

Roger Clarke 

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