Review – All My Sons, Apollo Theatre

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Don’t see this as a review, think of it more as test to see just how hard the Whingers are.

Let us explain. At the opening night of All My Sons Charles Spencer found it “profoundly moving” and reported that “I even spotted a hardened fellow critic weeping”.

We know that he or she was not the only critic blubbing away that opening night – we bumped into another one emerging from the theatre daintily dabbing at his ducts with a Kleenex.

Perhaps Arthur Miller‘s play would work its magic and touch even the Whingers’ shrivelled hearts?

Well, we can’t exactly say we dissolved into tears when we found out they had sold out of programmes at the Apollo Theatre on Tuesday evening, but we were a little peeved.

Run out of programmes? What’s all that about? It’s only been running a couple of weeks and only officially opened last Thursday. No, there wasn’t a programme to be had in the whole place. Not even for ready money. We even scoured the stalls on hour hands and knees after the show to see if one had been discarded or dropped unnoticed due to tear-induced blindness. But no, nothing. Just the detritus of plastic drinking vessels, empty boxes of Paynes Poppets and – happily – some still-lickable ice cream tubs .

So if this report is lacking a few details please forgive us and blame instead whoever didn’t order enough programmes.

What we do know is that this was director Howard Davies’ second (at least) pop at directing AMS. Whether you can say, as the Time Out review does, that it’s a “revival of his superb 2000 production” is another matter. That was the one with Julie Walters and Ben Daniels at the National; Phil saw it and thought that it was pretty absorbing stuff.

This version stars Hercule Poirot, David Suchet, and her off My Family*, Zoë Wanamaker; these facts we know as their names and faces feature on the poster.

The play is set just after WWII and takes place somewhere which is 700 miles from New York. Poirot plays Joe Keller who may have condemned 21 pilots to death by supplying planes with faulty cylinder heads and letting his business partner take the rap and a prison sentence. Was Joe really culpable and just how much guilt does he carry? Wanamaker plays his wife Kate: how much does she know? One of their sons is missing presumed dead in a plane crash. Was this also a result of Joe’s actions? Their other son Chris (whom we once met at a party and so could confidently identify as Stephen Campbell Moore) is now stepping out with his missing/dead brother’s fiancée Ann (played by someone or other who had a bit of a look of Hilary Swank about her and Phil thought rather good), but Kate doesn’t accept her son is dead, so how the heck is she going to handle that?

The woman that's got something of Hilary Swank about her, David Suchet, Stephen Campbell Moore and Zoe Wanamaker. Photo: Alastair Muir

The woman that's got something of Hilary Swank about her, David Suchet, Stephen Campbell Moore and Zoe Wanamaker. Photo: Alastair Muir

Phew, that’s quite a lot to be unravelled, and unravel it does of course, and at times quite dramatically. Yes the Whingers can attest that this is a very good production, it’s a ripping story and the secrets and lies unfold in a satisfyingly gripping manner.

There’s a gorgeous set, we’re guessing by William Dudley, consisting of a beautifully realised house, suitably weathered with a porch and garden where the action takes place, real grass (or so it looked from the Whingers’ comp seats in Row L – what didn’t they want us to notice?) which may have been simply left over from Jerusalem‘s Apollo residency. Plus there were some marvellous fake trees including the dangling branches of what looked like a huge willow. All very convincing. Yes, the set was getting a lot of favourable comment from those around the Whingers and it’s a such shame we can’t credit the designer with any certainty.

Another woman who was the wife of the doctor next door was played by a woman who was a bit like Mo Gaffney’s Taffy Turner. There were quite a few other people in it but goodness knows who they were.

The lighting – which was obviously by someone rather good – goes rather red hued towards the end when there’s talk of Joe having “blood on his hands” and Kate turns up in a bright red frock serving grape juice (what’s grape juice? Isn’t that just wine?) and Joe sports a bright red tie with matching pocket handkerchief, then spends his final scene in a red dressing gown. We think something may have been being hinted at.

Phil thought Poirot was pretty impressive and wasn’t surprised that his curtain call with Wanamaker prompted a standing ovation and disgusted looks look from the – (American) lady ovating next to Phil, who seemed appalled that the Whingers stayed firmly seated as demanded by those great British traditions of dignity and inertia. But we have to say that we were even more impressed by Stephen Campbell Moore, whose character is really the heart of the story anyway. Did Joe and Kate’s “tragedy” deserve tears? And we don’t wanamaker song and dance about it but Andrew found Kate’s transition from miserable mother of a missing son to light-hearted hostess rather bewildering.

Still, the play’s melodrama and sentimentality (we approve of melodrama, at least) seemed to work its magic on the crowd. Phil was sure he heard someone towards the front of the stalls blubbing near the end. Were there more journos in? Andrew professed himself unmoved; Phil confessed to a slight tingling in one eye briefly and was desperately trying to squeeze a droplet out just so he could feel like a real critic.

So Andrew is harder than Phil then, but only just. But at least the Whingers are harder than real critics. We’re quite looking forward to a fight now.


Phil’s (left) and Andrew’s (right) lachrymometer readings.


Rating score 4-5 full-bodied


* A comment by Zoe Wanamaker who was interviewed in last week’s Time Out prompted possibly the Best. Letter. Ever. in this week’s edition:

Zoe Wanamaker asks ‘ “Grumpy Old Women”! Why would anyone want to go see that?’
Because ‘My Family’ is on TV?
Geoff Bagwell

18 Responses to “Review – All My Sons, Apollo Theatre”

  1. trpw Says:

    Hilary Swank look-alike = Jemina Rooper

  2. Lord Andrew Lloyds Slipper Sniffer Says:

    My little grey cells are working overtime. I was at the last night of Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ at West Yorkshire Playhouse last Saturday. They too had run out of programmes. Even more spookily, that production starred Poirot’s accomplice, Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson). I wonder if both productions are actually part of a bizarre Agatha Christie/Arthur Miller hybrid trilogy. I guess we’ll only know if Birmingham Rep (say) announce Hastings (Hugh Fraser) in The Crucible.

  3. J.A. Says:

    Yes, it’s real grass. There was a mound of sods outside the Appollo stage door last week.

  4. NotTheNotTheWestEndWhingers Says:

    There was a rather nice Table in it too.

  5. JohnnyFox Says:

    I thought it was set in Ohio, but apparently it’s less specific for location and much more specific for accoutrements:

    The back yard of the KELLER home in the outskirts of an American town. August of
    our era.

    The stage is hedged on R. and L. by tall, closely planted poplars which lend the yard a secluded atmosphere. Upstage is filled with the back of the house and its open, unroofed porch which extends into the yard some six feet. The house is two stories high and has seven rooms. It would have cost perhaps fifteen thousand in the early twenties when it was built. Now it is nicely painted, looks tight and comfortable, and the yard is green with sod, here and there plants whose season is gone. At the R. beside the house, the entrance of the driveway can be seen, but the poplars cut off
    view of its continuation downstage. In the L. corner, downstage, stands the four-foot-high stump of a slender apple tree whose upper trunk and branches lie toppled beside it, fruit still clinging to its branches. Downstage R. is a small, trellised arbour,
    shaped like a sea-shell, with a decorative bulb hanging from its forward-curving roof.

    Garden chairs and a table are scattered about. A garbage pail on the ground next to the porch steps, a wire leaf-burner near it.

    Nothing about a table.

    • Ian Shuttleworth Says:

      Since Keller’s partner is in a state penitentiary in Columbus, then yes, it’s Ohio, though 700 miles from New York is overdoing it a bit even for the most distant corner of that state… say, Cincinnati.

      And by yesterday the grass had tawnied and shrivelled except where protected from the stage lighting by dint of being under the garden furniture. How often do they expect to have to re-sod?

  6. JohnnyFox Says:

    sorry the last line was a typo.

  7. Helen Smith Says:

    I really, really like the lachrymometers. I hope we’ll be seeing more of them.

  8. Chris Voisey Says:

    My tickets cost £50.50 each in the dress circle – don’t bitch you couldn’t get a £3.50 programme to go with your free ticket!

    I am amazed you were so stumped as to who was in the cast or had designed the lighting… just type ALL MY SONS and Apollo Theatre into Google. You will be amazed.

    Still, wonderful to see Howard Davies’ take on this great play again.

    Are you not reviewing THE CRUCIBLE at the Open Air?

  9. […] to get in an early review. But then the reviews started coming in, and with the quick glance at the West End Whingers’ surprisingly generous allocation of wine glasses on top of ShentonOnStage’s enthusiastic (possibly “raving”) opening night tweets, […]

  10. webcowgirl Says:

    I did actually get a tingle in my eyes when Joe realized X! It was a very good show. Afraid to say English were ovating.

  11. Dr John Dellingham Says:

    Woman to her companion behind me said ”’s nice to see Poirot in a new part..but I do hope he goes back to it..” Whatever the usual crowd, Miller’s a consummate writer and as with ‘Death OF AS’ hits hard at the human condition. Zoe W was outstanding but disagree about Annie, who I thought perhaps the least successful cast member. But it knocks the current state of TV drama into ten shades of next week and that includes the totally over-hyped Sherlock. Better going out than staying in.

  12. I always get Stephen Campbell Moore confused with Toby Stephens. They both have that pale chinless slightly ginger face that you know would look good in a striped blazer wrapped up with a big Harry Potter scarf.

  13. Jen Says:

    “what’s grape juice? Isn’t that just wine?”

    Is this an American thing? Only, it’s been really difficult for me to find grape juice in the UK, since I’ve been studying abroad.

    Since you asked (whether or not you were serious), grape juice is juice that tastes like grape. Same idea as orange juice or cranberry juice.

  14. Geoff Bagwell Says:

    Ha ha! I just stumbled across your wonderful blog with its mention of my Zoe Wanamaker letter. Glad you liked it!

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