The second day of my unplanned Arthur Miller double-bill, and while All My Sons, his first big hit, has not been as enduringly popular as The Crucible, in the case of these two productions at least it proves far superior. Returning to a play he first directed ten years ago, Howard Davies now has David Suchet take the lead as Joe Keller, a man for whom the Second World War had two major consequences: His son Larry disappeared, and his company which manufactured parts for warplanes was caught in a scandal when they knowingly supplied faulty parts. Keller was acquitted but his business partner went to jail. A few years later his other son Chris brings home Ann (Jemima Rooper from As If and Lost in Austen.) She was Larry's girlfriend but now she's about to marry Chris, which'll finally make Joe's wife Kate have to deal with the fact that her son won't be coming home. Ann also happens to be the daughter of that imprisoned business partner, and over one day and night all Joe's demons come back to haunt him.
The other big star name is Zoë Wanamaker as Kate, and she's as good as ever as a woman living in denial, increasingly fixated with superstition if it'll give her hope that her son might still be alive. But the main action is between Joe and Chris (Stephen Campbell Moore,) the overtly moral son who has to confront how his father has avoided responsibility for 21 airmen's deaths. Suchet is great at presenting the facade of the kindly, blameless old man who lost everything and built himself up again, then gradually peeling it back to show someone whose version of the American Dream can encompass destroying other people's lives if it means providing for his family. Campbell Moore is also strong and he carries off a lot of increasingly angry scenes, which I find are something that can often show actors up. As well as the lead actors there's good support, especially from Claire Hackett who, in the smallish role of Sue Bayliss, offers barbed comments that puncture some of the solemnity.
As well as the Apollo's dodgy sightlines there was a fairly badly-behaved audience to distract me tonight - phones going off, squeaking chairs and someone whose mid-first-act trip to the loo involved STOMPING to the gents', SLAMMING the door behind him and doing the same on the way back; and then presumably forgetting to make a trip in the interval so repeating the whole thing again in Act II. But despite lots of things conspiring to take me out of the action, the story and the performances always managed to drag me back into it again. And where I left The Crucible feeling exhausted, I left this feeling exhilarated.
All My Sons by Arthur Miller is booking until the 11th of September at the Apollo Shaftesbury Avenue.