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Sally shines in the gloom in All My Sons

Sally Field as Kate Keller and Jenna Coleman as Ann Deever in All My Sons at The Old Vic, Credit: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

In this week’s stage review, TIM WALKER, reviews All My Sons at the Old Vic.

‘I just want everybody to be happy,’ trills Jenna Coleman, playing the love interest in All My Sons. This being an Arthur Miller play, that was always going to be at best a forlorn hope.

Indeed, the sense of despair that overcomes punters at the end of one of this man’s plays always tends to be the measure of its success. I will wager Jeremy Herrin’s take on the great writer’s 1947 work – based on a true story – will result in a huge surge in calls to the Samaritans.

Joe Keller – played by a grizzled Bill Pullman – appears in his early scenes to be a contented family man, sitting on the porch of his clapboard house in small-town America just after the Second World War. Miller’s great gift is, however, to subvert the American Dream and the appearance of Joe’s wife Kate – Sally Field – looking nervy, uncertain and vulnerable is the first intimation that all is not quite as it seems.

Old Joe turns out to have put profit before human life and knowingly issued defective cylinder heads for use in fighter planes during the war with tragic consequences.

David Suchet has set the benchmark for most of the major roles in Miller’s plays, but somehow even that great actor’s portrayal of Joe in Howard Davies’ celebrated production of this work almost a decade ago pales in comparison with Pullman’s. The disintegration of the character this time around seems all the more harrowing because Pullman still has about him the air of the square-jawed, all-American hero he portrayed in films such as Independence Day.

Herrin has assembled an especially strong ensemble with Colin Morgan making a great job of Joe’s great lug of a son Chris, who glumly admits he hasn’t the imagination to say ‘I love you’ in a way that’s remotely poetic to his girlfriend Ann, played by the bewitching Coleman.

There are memorable turns, too, from Oliver Johnstone as Ann’s angry brother and the child actor Hari Coles – alternating in the role of the local tearaway Bert with Alfie Todd and Archie Barnes – proves to be a formidable scene-stealer.

The revelation is, however, Field as Kate, pathetically clinging on to the hope that her son Larry – officially still missing in action – is alive. What a seriously good actress the star of all those kooky comedies of the 1980s and 1990s has turned out to be. She gets that great acting is not being afraid to lay bare her soul and delivers a performance of mesmerising intensity.

No column over Easter, meanwhile, leaves me with scant space to put in a word for Giles Cooper, who rises to the occasion like a good souffle as the young chef Nigel Slater in Henry Filloux-Bennett’s Toast. This is an actor of extraordinary range, versatility and charm. Jonnie Riordan’s delightful production plays at the Other Palace Theatre – just across the road from Buckingham Palace – until August 3.