“This thing – this thing is not over yet”
A towering giant of the American dramatic canon, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons rarely lacks for productions on British stages but it can rarely have been delivered as well as it has in Michael Buffong’s production for his Talawa Theatre Company at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. Though written and set in 1947, its story still resonates out across timelines, colour lines and borderlines as the horror of sending soldiers out to combat with sub-standard equipment remains a brutal reality even today.
Don Warrington’s Joe Keller is a self-made businessman whose proudest achievement has been his gradual progression from humble beginnings to a man of means and thus status. But in order to get where he has, he allowed his business partner to take the rap for a fatal mistake in his factory which led to horrifically tragic consequences and though Joe and his wife have managed a life in denial, a change in their family circumstances forces them to confront the true ramifications of his actions.
Warrington is fiercely committed as Keller, a deceptively bumbling nature soon giving way to his innate self-interested conservatism and building into something determinedly vehement in the excoriating climax. But it is Doña Croll as his wife Kate who really shines as the matriarch who is the real centre of gravity in this interpretation. She has a blistering intensity which is exceptionally delivered, especially in the most fraught moments of self-deception, but it is intercut with a blissfully cutting sense of humour that subtly shifts the emotional balance of the play into greater extremes.
Chiké Okonkwo as their youngest son and Kemi-Bo Jacobs as Ann – the sweet neighbour who holds so much significance to the Kellers – are both strong too, as they unwind the cocoon of lies that has held the structure of this family together, exposing its fragility and hollowness and making a mockery of the relentless pursuit of money that has been Joe’s driving force for so long. Ellen Carins’ set feels a little misguided for a theatre in the round though, pulling sightlines awkwardly and making it a little harder than it should be to hear the actors speak, their accents not quite flowing so naturally and so needing close attention at times. But a highly accomplished production from an exciting company and in Croll, a singularly exceptional performance. Oh, and it’s all-black, if that matters to you.