All My Sons
Director: Michael Buffong
By Arthur Miller
Talawa Theatre Company
Birmingham Repertory Theatre

All My Sons is a searing investigation of honesty, guilt and the corrupting power of greed. As usual with Miller, the initially relaxed atmosphere is replaced bit by bit as information is revealed about the past of the central characters until it builds to its climatic finale. All My Sons is still as relevant today as it was in 1947, and reflects a society where money rules the roost, and corruption can – and will – grow from it.

It is 1947 and Joe and Kate Keller, an all-American couple, are living with the ghosts of World War II. Joe is a successful, self-made businessman, a loving family man and a pillar of the community. He is a partner in a machine shop building fighter plane parts. Joe and Kate’s happiness is clouded by one thing – their son is missing in action, presumed dead by all but his mother. Chris, the remaining son has asked Annie, his brother’s former girlfriend to the house and intends to propose to her: but there is still something still hanging over the household, something that must be revealed.

Director Michael Buffong has stayed true to the story despite the seemingly attention grabbing all black cast, but which really makes no difference: and rightly so, the play is about humanity, what leads people to make certain choices in certain situations, and the lasting effects our decisions have to society in the wider sense. These issues are hardly exclusive to one colour or creed. He ensures there is lightness in the first act, where the plot is being revealed, and the tension is build in the second act as work by Miller requires. The set design, the veranda outside the house, sets the picture nicely: however one could argue that it seems to resemble southern America a little more than it does the outskirts of New York.

Ray Shell gives us a very relaxed, comedic Joe Keller – which sometimes means playing to the audience a little too much. However his transition is good once his past comes back to bite him in the bum. Dona Croll manages Kate Keller’s anguish well and creates a likeable character, she has a genuine warmth whilst the truth bubbles away under the characters surface. Leemore Marrett Jr gives the stand out performance of the evening as Chris Keller, he finds the earnest nature of the character and the conflict of being family orientated over wider society takes it’s toll on him: his speech about his experiences in the war really hits us, and its effects are clear in his characterisation. Kemi-Bo Jacobs  has some nice moments particularly towards the end of the piece  as Ann Deever, but some of her acting strikes us as slightly odd and unsettling to watch. The rhythm of her speech pattern and accent seem unnaturalistic. her physicality is very slumped at times and there is little chemistry between her and Leemore Marrett Jr as Chris.

There are some strong performances, and the tension builds up to where it should be, but it just seems that there is something in the way of depth missing – it’s as if you’re watching from across the street rather than being in the garden with the characters. Good, but doesn’t really do this work of art justice.

Image: Pamela Raith

Runs until 28th March – Birmingham. Touring to London Richmond, Colchester and Malvern until 25th April.