All My Sons

Arena Theatre: All My Sons - Lighthouse, Poole. 11th November 201

Arthur Miller’s powerful and searching play about an all American family living with grief, guilt and denial in the aftermath of World War II was a huge success when it was first staged in the late 1940s. No wonder! Many people had witnessed unspeakable horrors… and not always on the battlefield.

Today, nearly 70 years on, Miller’s tragic masterpiece has lost none its power and Arena Theatre’s reworking gets right to the core of how, to paraphrase Philip Larkin, parents can mess up their children’s lives and how delusion and denial can only keep the lid on a dark secret for so long.

The subject is profiteering. Something that the head of the family Joe Keller, played by Matthew Ellison, hopes he has buried in the past. However the inconvenient fact that he allowed his factory - working flat-out for the war effort - to ship faulty aircraft components refuses to go away. Twenty airmen died and Joe avoided jail by pinning the blame on Steve Deever his one-time friend, colleague and next door neighbour.

The war has dealt the Kellers a bad hand. One of their sons, Larry, failed to return from a flying mission in the Far East. Three years later Joe’s wife Kate (Francesca Folan) refuses to believe that Larry is dead and their other son Chris (Nathan Lindell) can’t bring himself to admit that the father he idolises could possibly have done wrong. 

It’s a toxic situation brought to a head when Chris invites the woman he wants to marry - Larry’s old girlfriend Ann (Clare Hawkins) daughter of the still-jailed Steve - to stay with the family. With a letter in her pocket and a brother on the warpath, Ann proves the unwitting and unwilling catalyst to the unveiling of some terrible truths and a tragic climax.

Director Chris Tucker and the excellent cast do a fine job with this deceptively complex play that draws on dramatic inspiration as far reaching as Henrik Ibsen and Greek tragedy. 

There are superb performances particularly from Ellison as the ostensibly successful and devoted family man thriving in a post war America he no longer understands and living with the knowledge that his past can at any moment completely destroy his world. There is strong support from Folan, Lindell and Hawkins while Gareth Richards and Lotte Fletcher-Jonk as neighbours Dr Jim Bayliss and his wife Sue also deserve a special mention.  A simple set and effective lights and sound (though I can’t help feeling that there might have been a gunshot missing) helped convey the mounting tension.

When he wrote All My Sons Arthur Miller was exploring the fragility of relationships between parents and children and of course tearing into the myth of the American Dream - a move that saw him hauled before the super-paranoid commie-hunting House of Un-American Activities. In an ironic twist, less than a decade later he was married to Marilyn Monroe and, at least when viewed through the twisted prism of the Hollywood publicity machine, living that very dream to the hilt. The reality of course was somewhat different.

*Arena Theatre’s All My Sons plays Lighthouse in Poole until Saturday (November 14). More info at

Jeremy Miles

© Jeremy Miles 2022