This show finished on Saturday 30 April 2022, and this page is being kept for archival purposes only.
Joe and Kate’s American life had served them well, with J.O Keller business landing the American dream at their door. For him, family is everything, but war has seen a devastating impact on the Kellers, causing rifts in relationships and revealing secrets long kept. Arthur Miller’s pressure-cooker play brings to life post-war tension under a spirited backdrop of astrology, dreams, faith and love. In the space of one garden and one day, the stirring story of ‘All My Sons’ is told, ending with broken hearts, and beginning with a broken tree.
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Actor Conor Quinn
Actor Priya Basra
Actor Lucy Lane
Actor Thomas Catton
Actor Fiona Forster
Actor Seraphima Ogden
Actor Livi Carpenter
Actor Ted Ackery
Co-Director Catriona Maclachlan
Co-Director Tazy Harrison-Moore
Co-Director Josie Embleton
Co-Stage Manager Annabel Lloyd
Costume Designer Ealish Withington
Lighting Assistant Lewis Eggeling
Lighting Designer Martha Barrow
Lighting Designer Sky Willis
Producer Hannah Lacaille
Sound Designer Mallory Smith
Tech Manager Callum Mack
Video Editor Alex Mohan Morzeria-Davis
Videographer Lewis Raeburn
Tuesday 10 May - By Callum Osment for The Student
no rating listed; must have rating greater than 0 to render review
First written all the way back in 1946, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons is a staple in the theatre community, and after multiple revivals on Broadway and around the world, as well as two movie adaptations, it presents a unique challenge to contemporary performers to justify their own unique spin on such well-worn pages. Bedlam’s current roster provides us with another swing at Miller’s text and, for the most part, they don’t really miss, hitting all the necessary tonal beats required of them in an arguably rather challenging piece.
All My Sons follows a day in the life of the Keller family, led by the patriarch Joe Keller (Ackery), now making his living as a small business owner, following a stint in prison for a crime he claims he didn’t commit. The play drives forward at a breakneck pace, with the rest of the clan darting back and forth across the stage calling after their partners and children, all while Joe sits reading his paper, making the occasional glib remark. As the day progresses, we come to learn about the secrets that each of the family are hiding: the proposal that Chris (O’Cuinn) is planning for his newly returned neighbour Ann (Carpenter), the blind ignorance of mother Kate (Melrose) to the loss of her soldier son Larry, insisting he will return even after 3 years, and the jaded George (Basra), brother of Ann, whose accusations regarding Joe’s exoneration threaten to upset the already teetering balance of the Keller’s way of life.
The script requires its performers to lurch between emotions at a frenetic pace, rotating between casual chit chat and desperate confessions within mere seconds. There are moments when this tension is unravelled perfectly, the final conversation between Chris, Kate, Joe and Ann being a particular highlight, but at other times it does feel that the performers veer too heavily from one end of the spectrum to the other. Whilst Ackery does do a rather commendable job at screaming with dismay, there is a certain lack of restraint which robs some of the emotional punch from the moments which deserve it the most. The American accent is a tough one to pull off for any Brit, and there are definitely some performers that carried it better than others, though I did feel that, on the whole, the cast settled into things by the final act. Standout performances would have to be Melrose as Kate, who provides the emotional core of the production with a natural, believable voice, as well as Basra as George, whose explosive arrival in the second act is given just the right amount of authentic intensity to make you feel he is a real, tangible threat.
In terms of the technical aspects, there are moments wherein musical cues are used to accentuate certain interactions, and whilst at times this moody soundtrack works, at others it feels undeserved, and perhaps even unneeded when Miller’s text is already conveying things effectively. It felt great to be back in a space like the Teviot Underground, and the performance took full advantage of the surroundings, with the cast at times appearing amongst the crowd up in the balcony to jeer down at those on stage, before banging loudly down the stairs: this well-structured set lends the performance an air of dynamism that demands your attention wholeheartedly. If the rapturous applause it received at its climax is anything to go by, then the directorial team of Embleton, Harrison-Moore and Maclachlan have, largely, pulled off a pretty impressive feat, in that they have managed to render a performance of Miller that provides the chokehold over the audience it deserves, despite the obvious constraints that an amateur performance presents.
Bedlam’s current take on the proceedings comes to us at a rather unique time in history, for while we seem to be, for the most part, exiting the arduous health crisis that has defined every conversation for the last two years, the conflict in Ukraine has catapulted us right back into situations of economic hardship and questions concerning the morality of our civilisation’s power structures. What all this means is that, remarkably, the themes and emotions that Miller was attempting to convey aren’t all that dissimilar to those which, presumably, the actors were able to tap into this time around, affording the production a certain situational potency that elevates the sense of resonance within the room. The phrase oft-repeated by the characters that ‘nothing ever changes around here’, presumably meant to be something of a comfort to each other at the time, takes on a more sinister significance when you consider how the twisted notion of the American Dream hasn’t really gone anywhere since Miller first conceived of the play, making his critique, and this performance, still as necessary as ever today.
Saturday 30 April - By Dominic Corr for Corr Blimey
There’s a figurative list of productions in critical circles, of shows and titles that (for lack of a better descriptive) make eyes roll or force exhales of breath. They’re the titans of theatre, particularly attractive to the amateur dramatic and student-led companies; from the lofts of Tennessee Williams or Samuel Beckett to the classic foundations of Aphra Behn or Sophocles. Arthur Miller and All My Sons fall into this category. And there’s an unwritten rule that amateur productions and professional companies are held to differing standards of criticism, where acquittances are made for a lack of budget or time constraints.
But we can’t do that for The Edinburgh University Theatre Company, because bluntly put – All My Sons is far too good to be held to anything less than professional standards. The entire cast and crew are deserving of their standing ovations, breathing vigour and vibrancy into an otherwise dusted-off definitive.
For the uninitiated, Miller’s traumatic and taut play concerns the Keller family and their arrival at the shimmering gates of the American Dream. Joe, business owner, husband, and father, has everything he could provide for his family, but war has left the family in the doldrum of limbo. Their son Larry, MIA for years, is alive and well in his mother Kate’s thoughts, but to his brother, father and once girlfriend Ann, his time has passed, but acceptance is a bitter pill.
And as the ashen edges of reality creep around that American dream, where truth, more than any conspiracy, is the real enemy to this family, secrets unveil themselves as Joe, Kate, and surrounding neighbours begin to have their hearts broken – all stemming from one lonely, broken tree in Kate’s Garden.
Brilliances are made by the cauldron of directors, three no less, who miraculously maintain a synergetic vision despite their numbers. Josie Rose Embleton, Tazy Harrison-Moore and Catriona Maclachlan achieve coherency in repositioning the play, and mercifully maintain the three-act structure without extending the runtime. They retain the time period of Miller’s juggernaut production but instil an accessible contemporisation, where concepts of character change and gender become obsolete and thoroughly welcomed. And drawing a contemporary stance out of the tale, where the commercialisation of war and the profiteering of the desecrated is, unfortunately, not a relic of the past.
But where Joe Keller may be the epitome of the American lug-head in the original play, Ted Ackery stands not as the simpleton, nor even fully-fledged villain, but as a Keller who embodies that amiable 1940s figure-headed patriarch of the family, a man who balances everything on the thin needle of his own world. Much of the tale circles Ackery, who has a concerningly calming presence as the father figure, offering little doubt as to why the neighbourhood would take to the man so easily. The characterisation at first is veneer, but the depths of self-inflicted agony, carried throughout the years is a triumph in multi-layered performance, from the deflections of humour towards Florence Carr-Jones’ neighbourly kid Bert’s to the more controlling yet still friendly façade he shares with Olivia Carpenter and Priya Basra as Ann and George Denver.
Darting around the cast, Conor Ó’Cuinn’s Chris, the surviving son of Joe and Kate, and hopeful betrothed to Ann (his brother’s girlfriend), Ó’Cuinn has a significantly difficult task of communicating a wide arrange of social interactions. From the romantic chemistry with Carpenter to his often ill-wanted advice with neighbours Lucy Lane and Marina Funcasta, Funcasta makes a delightfully sharper Sue than most productions tend to flesh out. Ó’Cuinn succeeds in diversifying the range, bringing a much-needed dose of comedy from routines with the ‘green’ loving Frank (Tom Catton) and suffering mother of three Lydia (Fiona Forster).
But if all seems too quaint in this neighbourhood, just wait.
Any concerns that accents (which by and large are rather clean and articulate) may be detracting from performances reaching a visceral level of emotional projection are completely demolished come the production’s second act, where the levels of pathos on display are crystalline in their communication. Yes, through Ackery and Ó’Cuinn’s more vocal aggressions, but within Lucy Melrose’s authentic acceptance of grief and the loss of not only her son but family. Melrose instils a significant amount of compassion in Kate, making the often-trivialised mother placing hope in horoscopes, into a dimensional woman holding the strings of the family together behind Joe’s back. Melrose’s facial expression as reality crumbles around her is a harrowing sight, a peculiar blending of youthful hope, shattered into a woman betwixt despair and action.
With limits of space, the direction does well to tie it into the dynamics of the intensity of the emotional space rather than hide, where there is no escape for Joe, further reinforcing the jail closing around him. Martha Barrow and Sky Willis’ lighting accentuates this, filling in the gaps of space to hone focus on the onstage talent and stop distracting eyes from wandering.
Producing a plethora of shows throughout the year, the dedication and talents present within the EUTC are always a feat to be proud of – and All My Sons may well be one of their most shining moments. Contemporising a piece of literary history; a show adapted, re-adapted and translated time and time again into something fresh, engaging, and far superior to many of the professional stagings of the show.
Friday 29 April - By Philip Caveney for Bouquets and Brickbats
Teviot Underground, Edinburgh
There are good playwrights and there are great ones. Arthur Miller definitely belongs in the latter category. It’s a brave student theatre group that dares to tackle one of his works but, down in the crowded basement of the Teviot Underground, EUTC take on his 1947 play All My Sons and, with great skill and determination, make it their own.
This is the story of the Keller family and it takes place entirely in the garden of their home. It’s the night after a storm has uprooted a beloved tree, planted three years earlier in memory of the family’s youngest son, Larry, a fighter pilot who went missing in the war. Patriarch and factory owner, Joe (Ted Ackery), has survived accusations of shipping defective airplane parts to the military during the conflict and has subsequently prospered, even though his partner, Steve, still languishes in jail, found guilty of the charge.
Joe’s devoted son, Chris (Conor O’ Cuinn), is in line to take over the family business, but it’s not going to be plain sailing. He is hopelessly in love with Ann Deever (Olivia Carpenter), Larry’s former fiancée and she, in turn, has feelings for him. But Chris’s mother, Kate (Lucy Melrose), steadfastly refuses to give up hope that her lost son will one day return – and accepting this new union would, for her, be the final nail in her missing son’s coffin.
As ever with student theatre, the staging here is clearly constrained by budget, but the set designers have applied themselves to the task with great ingenuity; and using the canteen area at the back of the stage to depict the interior of the family home is a terrific idea. Interestingly, the costuming evokes the late 1960s and snatches of Bob Dylan and The Doors on the soundtrack accentuate the idea that this is a tragedy that could just as easily be applied to the Vietnam War – or any other one, come to that. The spectre of profiteering from war is, I’m afraid, universal.
But what really comes across in this production are the performances, with the four leads in particular submitting thrilling interpretations of their roles. And it doesn’t end there. The supporting roles of the family’s neighbours – who all know that Joe is guilty but have conspired to overlook the fact – are also delivered with utter conviction. There’s no weak link here – and there’s a palpable moment in the middle of the first act, when you sense these young performers coming to the realisation that they have their characters nailed and are going to make them fly.
Into this volatile atmosphere comes George (Priya Basra), Ann’s older brother, now a successful lawyer, who has previously accepted Joe’s acquittal and refused to see his own father ever since the trial – until now, that is. Now he has talked to his father and the wool has finally been pulled from his eyes. He visits the Kellers intent on seeking revenge.
The slowly rising tension builds steadily to a climax of extraordinary power. It’s a hard-hearted soul indeed who won’t be moved to tears by its shattering conclusion. EUTC have achieved something here that they can be truly proud of and, if you have the chance to catch this performance, then I’d advise you to take it.
It’s an assured interpretation of one of Arthur Miller’s greatest works.