This review contains an aesthetic discussion of suicide. If you are concerned about yourself or someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Arthur Miller was not really known for writing happy scripts where everyone goes out for ice cream and comes back with a winning lottery ticket. All My Sons follows the story of a family a few years out from WWII as they wait for their missing eldest to return, and it’s as dark as you’d expect.
In his program notes, director Adam Waldman encourages active engagement with the play’s use of suicide as a plot point. He—very rightly—identifies asking tough questions as one of the functions of theatre. With the discussion about triggers currently raging in the SUDS cohort, All My Sons was an example of a safe exploration of a dark concept within the confines of student theatre. It showed the potential success of notifying audiences of a concern within the text, without ruining plot elements or slapping the nonsensical “trigger warning” over every piece of publicity. Ample opportunity to contact Waldman or other crewmembers was given to the audience both through online channels and prior to the commencement of the show on the night. I hope SUDS production teams continue to use this model into the future.
However, it is still important to discuss the portrayal of serious issues. Miller uses suicide to function as a remedy for guilt, implicating suicide as both a solution for and an indictment of the individual concerned. This is essentially how the play is resolved: one of the characters commits suicide, and while this creates an obvious emotional issue for their family, it resolves a moral one. Miller’s text dates back to 1947, and attitudes have developed a lot since then, but onus for choice of text falls to the production team. At no point in the production did I feel that this concern was brought to attention. While these texts should not be censored, performances should be constructed as to question and problematise, instead of glossing over issues or expecting the audience to do all of the legwork.
All My Sons gives us a snapshot of post-war America, handily provided to us through a fantastic set, which featured AstroTurf, stylised plant life, and a white-picket fence. However, for the entire first act, this beautiful set was illuminated by an oppressive, blank wash. This, combined with a lack of energy from almost all actors in the cast, gave the first act the likeness of waiting in a hospital ward: everyone is tired, the lights are hurting your eyes, and you just wish someone would die already.
Perhaps this is too harsh, as the production certainly picks up in the second act. Lighting is far more imaginative; a subtle, slow sunset transforms the set over half and hour. Actors also seemed to pick up some momentum, and were able to pull the audience along with them. Tess Green stole the show in the role of Kate Keller, with a developed stage presence and vocal work that drew attention away from the energy-sapping environment. She has continued to go from strength to strength across a number of SUDS performances this year. Other stand-outs included Lauren Gale as Ann, and Max Baume – following the Act 2 pick-up.
Costuming, designed by Bronwyn Hicks, were authentic and wonderfully convincing. Hicks displayed a great love for the period, and her work gave the production some much-needed colour as well as an eerie, Capote-esque vibe.
Overall, All My Sons is well worth the price of admission. The team have handled a tricky text with maturity and artistic finesse. It’s strong team effort that makes for a great close to the SUDS main season, and a good catalogue of individual talents to look out for next year.