Review – All My Sons, Old Vic

Friday 19 April 2019

Whisper it. This is really rather good but let’s not make a big song and dance about it, say it ever so quietly so no one can hear you.

For this is the 1947 All My Sons by Marilyn Monroe’s ex husband starring former Flying Nun and double Academy Award-winner Sally (you like me, right now, you like me!) Field, and the go-to for cinematic and television POTUSes Bill Pullman. How Hollywood is that? Come see them bucking that hoary old stereotype of the loud American. They’re oh so quiet.

Yeah, this was a preview and all that, but surely the director, Jeremy Herrin, could find time to lurk at the back of the theatre and work out if we can actually hear what is being said? We recommend you book for the captioned performance on 30th May.

We thought it might be punishment for saving a few pounds and purchasing seats to the side of the Dress Circle. Not that slightly sub prime seats should be an excuse for inaudibility. Friends (one of whom is young enough to have pin-sharp hearing) who were in row J of the stalls the same night, missed lots of dialogue too. So, not just us then.

What a shame as it’s a cracking yarn. For for those of you intending to go, here’s a synopsis picked up from what we could hear and piecing it together during an interval conflab: It’s just after WWII and mumbling Joe Keller (Pullman) may have sentenced 21 pilots to death by supplying planes with dodgy cylinder heads and letting his business partner, Steve, take the blame and a prison sentence to boot.

Steve claims that Joe told him to dispatch the faulty goods in a phone call. Joe denies the conversation even happened. No wonder Steve’s inside. Imagine trying to understand Joe over the phone. Joe was exonerated but is he really guilty and how much does his wife Kate (Field) know? Their son, Larry, is missing presumed dead in a plane crash. Was this the result of Joe’s actions? Kate won’t accept her son is dead but her other son, Chris (Colin Morgan), speaks so clearly we can understand that he wants to marry Larry’s girlfriend, Ann (Jenna Victoria Coleman), who also happens to be Steve’s daughter. Phew! How on earth will Kate react? Through the medium of mime one imagines.

While fumbling for your ear trumpet you can still admire Max Jones‘ set of a properly realised garden with trees, a convincingly worn lawn and a house that is so Waltons-friendly you’d consider super-gluing yourself to it. The house also comes with a rather extravagant effect that probably works as a metaphor at the end of the play. This may be the most extravagant stage metaphor we’ve ever seen.

Despite the sotto voce tendencies of the cast it’s not difficult to appreciate that even at this stage they’re all rather good. Coleman proves to be a bit of a revelation and Field, ahem, is quietly moving. We liked her, we really liked her. Just don’t say it too loudly.

Phil and Andrew have since enjoyed a giggle at the Sweet Charity survey’s expense (right) which was emailed to Phil after their Donmar visit. We do hope the Old Vic sends out the same survey. We assume they aspire to the third option. WTF?

Rating (It would be 4 out of 5 but we’ve deducted one for you know what)
Trumpet rating



8 Responses to “Review – All My Sons, Old Vic”

  1. Ian Sprawson Says:

    I saw this on Monday 16 April (second preview performance). I was lucky enough to have a seat in stalls row D (effectively the second row). From there, the dialogue was clear, but I did think at the time how far back it would reach. I agree about the performances: no weakness and some impressive work particularly from Pullman and Morgan. The part of the mother is smaller, but Field was genuinely moving – true pathos. For me, the plot is a bit clunky and is only just about believable, but that is enough when the performance is good.

  2. Michael Darby (The Wimbledon Whinger) Says:

    We too, sitting in the stalls (Row L) missed some 20% of the dialogue. The cast are still feeling their way into their roles, not quite at home yet at Thursday’s preview, but we felt so grateful to have a wonderful story told without a director’s ego hanging out all over the place and making a nasty mess everywhere! Arthur Miller is one of the all time great playwrights and requires absolutely no reinterpretation! Thank you Jeremy Herrin for keeping it simple! Get the Voice and Dialect coach (step forward Daniele Lydon) to earn their fee and this could be one of the season’s must see shows. When you can hear all the words, you realise that not a single one is wasted, but I had to read the script to discover this. ***

    • Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

      It’s not just us:

      Evening Standard: “his [Pullman’s] rasping delivery means some of the most potent lines don’t land properly. He’s not the only one who’s less than perfectly audible”

      The Arts Desk: ” Pullman leads with an inexplicably throaty drawl that manages to conceal, if not actually mangle, most of his lines. ”

      Time Out: “The characters are tuned down, not up, and Pullman and Morgan speak in mumbly naturalistic voices that take a while to adjust to. The first half, in particular, is borderline laid back.”

      Independent: “Joe a kind of down home gruffness that occasionally renders him inaudible. The “all my sons” line itself was slightly garbled.”

      The Times: “Granted there are moments in Jeremy Herrin’s production when you wish they would, if not shout, then at least speak up a bit”
      “The show has an intimacy that sometimes clashes with the acoustic demands of this large space”

      Secret London: “the opening act, where an often mumbling Keller looks rather lost, never quite sure of his role in the world or the play.”

  3. Howard White Says:

    I was in row G of the stalls for the 4th preview and had no problem with the clarity of the dialogue. Unfairly I had low expectations of the American actors and my cynicism was proved completely wrong although I would echo the previous comment of some of the Actors not being quite there yet (and once or twice Sally Field did put me in mind of Acorn Antique’s Mrs Overall). I would be surprised if this does not transfer after the Old Vic run. Highly recommended.

  4. EthelMalley Says:

    A few years ago I saw the Old Vic MUCH ADO with Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones.

    The (ugly) set was a three-sided panelled room. In front of it was an open rectangle lying on its side. The result of this configuration was that probably 40% or more of the dialogue was incomprehensible from my central seat in the stalls.

    When some parachute material was draped over the open rectangle to provide a hiding place during the action, the audibility problem completely disappeared.

    I blame Mark Rylance as director for this. It seems the Old Vic requires careful staging to avoid this problem, assuming it’s considered desirable for a paying audience to be able to hear.

  5. Sandown Says:

    Arthur Miller’s play ” requires absolutely no re-interpretation”. True enough, at least by a director.

    However, this “cracking yarn” (Whingers) is itself a re-interpretation by Miller of Ibsen’s play “Pillars of Society”. Miller also re-interpreted Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People” in his own version, which completely missed Ibsen’s ironic point in the original, whose hero is part-blinded by self-righteousness.

    Of course, Miller was trying to present himself as the “noble truth-teller” opposed to the populist mob, as he also does in “The Crucible”. Even his best known work, “Death of a Salesman”, owes a considerable debt to Clifford Odets’ play “Awake and Sing”, written a decade before.

    Miller’s plays get revived because they are well-crafted, and generally require a single set and a relatively small cast.But there is no need to fall for Miller’s sanctimonious self-presentation, both in his work and in his public persona.

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