You tend to know what you’re getting with Arthur Miller, and Jeremy Herrin’s rich revival at the Old Vic is no exception. Headlined by two-time Oscar winner Sally Field as the matriarch, Kate Keller, Bill Pullman (The Sinner) is Joe, her factory owner husband, while Colin Morgan (Merlin, Humans) is their veteran son, Chris, and TV royalty Jenna Coleman (Victoria) is Annie, the fiancée of Chris’s brother, Larry, who went missing in combat three years earlier.
The return of Annie to her old neighbourhood precipitates a new examination of the family and both their individual and collective values, as we come to understand that the loss of Larry is not, in fact, the Kellers’ defining tragedy.
In the hands of Field and her co-stars, what can feel like a dense, almost classical sort of drama is lifted into something altogether more current, and more human. This depth of feeling starts with Max Jones’s set, whose recreation of the Kellers’ idyllic backyard is alive with concrete, evocative detail; when the lights fell to signify night time, somehow the temperature did too.
Written and set in 1947, the shadow of war looms large in All My Sons: Joe made his money making airplane parts for the US military; Chris struggles to shake off his time in charge of a company that suffered many casualties; Kate still refuses to believe Larry is dead.
Field is outstanding as Kate, who must have at once the sweet civility of an elderly mother and the viciousness of a woman betrayed, while Pullman convinces as a man whose initial geniality eventually gives way to something far more base.
Brits Morgan and Coleman occasionally struggle to maintain both emotional intensity and convincing American accents, but they’re impressively committed; Morgan brings a jittery physicality to the conflicted Chris, while Coleman’s Annie possesses real warmth, and tenderness. All four capably convey the disorientation that comes from having old convictions slowly replaced by new, unpalatable truths.
Despite its specificity, the concerns of All My Sons are evergreen; this isn’t an experimental, updated take on Miller’s work, but that doesn’t mean it’s not contemporary. Though the play has its flaws, it’s hard to deny there is power in it – especially when performed by a cast as able as this.
All My Sons is at the Old Vic until 8 June 2019. See oldvictheatre.com or call the box office on 0844 871 7628