Inside the rehearsal roomFrank Lubey

When Arthur Miller wrote All My Sons, he famously vowed to "find some other line of work" were it not to be a success. Luckily, Olivia Bowman and Hannah Calascione have chosen to do it for less desperate reasons.

“I love the play because it never reaches any kind of resolution for me,” says Olivia. “I've seen it and read it multiple times and yet every day I have new questions about it, new provisional answers, new insights into the characters. It's fascinating to put on with a hard working and committed cast because everybody has different reactions to the play’s complexities. Probably the most enjoyable part of the process so far has been the discussions we have had about individual characters and the disparities between their actual and constructed realities.”  

The play tackles themes of war, deception, family disintegration, and the failure of the American Dream, though this is not to say there are no lighter moments. Hannah admits that these have been a challenge. “The play is so heart wrenching. It’s hard work creating a show where the dialogue switches drastically from light conversation to dark interrogations of the past and heavy tragedy. To make sense of it we’ve had to focus in rehearsals on recreating the domestic setting where the characters, most of whom have grown up together, can do this comfortably.”

The rehearsal room too can be said to have a close, domestic feel, though with a more positive effect: “It feels like everyone involved really loves and cares about it, which I think will be clear in the performance. I hope it might encourage a few freshers in the audience who want to be involved in this kind of thing too.”

Yet All My Sons remains a dark play; some would say a tragedy. What do the directors think of this tag? Olivia has this to say: “What is fascinating about All My Sons is the way that Miller at once satisfies and frustrates our expectations of what a tragedy should be and do. The ending, then, though potentially a hopeful one, is sudden. Any cathartic purge that we might expect to find is only really afforded us in Kate Keller's last line, the final line of the show: 'Forget now...Live.'

“It is impossible to say whether this is as satisfying as full-out catharsis because, I think, it is impossible for an audience to make objective moral decisions about the characters themselves. The play should leave its audience with a sense of moral dilemma because the 'everyman' is a man we understand and, unlike the original tragic hero of the aristocracy, a man who we cannot entirely separate from ourselves.”

The focus of some rehearsals has been very heavily on characterisationFrank Lubey

It seems that the very modern nature of the play is it’s greatest strength. At times, the label 'topical' seems appropriate. America is, of course, getting involved in another war in the Middle East, yet one not one where the casualties feel as close to home as they did for the Kellers. Yet Hannah still sees relevance in the tale: “Miller presents war profiteering as a potentially immoral act that involves a similar distancing from the tragedies of war: Chris Keller describes the money made from war profiteering as 'loot' with 'blood on it'.”

“Kate Keller denies point blank that she lost a son in World War II, believing he is simply missing and due to return. In this denial it seems she is connecting his death with the death of the 21 pilots Joe and Steve were accused of ‘murdering’ by sending out faulty aeroplane parts. If she accepted the death of her son she would have to sympathise with the mothers of those 21 men, something too emotionally overwhelming for her. This selective ignorance, the blind denial of the truths of war is something audience members today will relate to, and it’s uncomfortable.”

Miller has been accused of writing weak female characters, but Kate Keller proves this wrong, adds Olivia. “She’s the opposite of a 'shallow' character - in our production she will open and close the performance and, throughout the play, stands as a strong, admirable woman, with great emotional insight.”

The issue of the American Dream was not resolved in the mid-twentieth century either, Hannah claims. “It represents a basic human drive for achievement, and it's goals are extremely relevant in today's consumer-driven society. Miller uses the American Dream in the play as a counterargument for social responsibility. The characters that are deemed as ‘philosophers’, the ones who preach moral principles that extend to the whole of society, are confronted by characters who prioritise the American Dream - exasperated by the idea of ‘thinking too much’, horrified by the idea of there being anything ‘bigger than the family’.”

Clearly the distinction between the two value systems is not binary, the audience will not be divided up into two camps of people who care about the world and people who care about the materialistic, domestic ideals of the American Dream, and neither are the characters. The beauty of the script is that it leaves you with the capacity to sympathise with all of the characters and their decisions.”

This is a well thought through play, still striving to complete Miller’s original social mission and involve the audience in timeless debates about society’s priorities.