All My Sons, by Arthur Miller | Directed by Kip Williams

Sydney Theatre Company (https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au) | Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay, Sydney | Until 9 July

All My Sons was Arthur Millers’ first successful play. Set in 1946 in a suburban backyard of the home of Joe and Kate Keller, Miller invites us to spend two days of ‘domesticity’ in the Keller household.

The huge stage at the Roslyn Packer Theatre houses the rear of the Keller’s house, designed cleverly by Alice Babidge, in front of which is a shared space that the family and neighbours use.

Gradually we are introduced to the Keller family ... the patriarch, Joe Keller, his wife Kate and their son Chris, recently returned from combat, and their second son Larry, a pilot who has been declared missing for three years.

These relationships comprise the central narrative of this domestic drama, which Miller complicates further with the news that Chris and Ann Deever (Eryn Jean Norvill), Larry’s former fiancée, and daughter of Joe’s partner, intend to marry.

Add to this Joe’s backstory. He was a factory owner who during the war made engine heads for fighter planes ... a batch of which were sent out cracked and 21 American pilots died as a result. Joe’s business partner Steve was deemed responsible and remains in prison. High drama indeed!

Director Kip Williams, shrewdly steers us through the melodrama inherent in the script and provides a gradual and plausible understanding of events in this well constructed play.

John Howard subtly convinces as Joe, the patriarch, who believes his role of father will justify all his actions. Howard gradually creates this identity-kit of a man in denial, and as his partner of many years, Robyn Nevin, accurately supports this theme, by deftly delivering another character in denial. Her insistence that Larry is still alive is both touching and terrifying as she battles to keep everything as it was before Larry left.

No surprise then, that Chris is also in denial, and Chris Ryan insightfully portrays an idealist who loves and admires his father and is desperate to believe in his innocence. Ryan plays Chris with assurance, convincing as a survivor — the next generation — who has to look beyond the narrow confines of his immediate family.

Each actor gives a persuasive argument for their side of the story, and as an audience we are continually shifting sympathies. A stellar cast — Anita Heigh, Bert Labonte, John Leary and Josh McCoville, to name a few — fleshes out the attitudes and show the social ethics of the times.

Dated somewhat in tone and language, the prevalence of greed in the world today keeps this work relevant. Its central theme of social responsibility and the ability/inability to connect with the world around us, both near and distant, recommends that we should all see this at some time in our brief existence, and this intelligent, seamless and touching production is unlikely to be surpassed. Thumb up!

Above: Eryn Jean Norvill, John Howard, Robyn Nevin and Chris Ryan.

Below: Eryn Jean Norvill and Robyn Nevin.

All images: Zan Wimberley.

Above: John Howard and Chris Ryan.

Below: Chris Ryan, John Howard and Eryn Jean Norvill.