Arthur Miller’s dense drama is one of those rare plays that will always be relevant, in some way or another. Concealing and ultimately being held accountable for past crimes is too easily compared to anything in the media right now. As such, there is plenty of opportunity to look at the play anew, and take another audience through the complex history of the Keller Family.
It would take too long to give a full synopsis, and I dare not give anything away, but in essence Chris Keller (Daniel Cahill) invites his childhood friend Anne Deever (Amy Kennedy) to his parent’s house on the anniversary of his brother’s death with the intention of asking for her hand in marriage, to the dismay of his parents Joe (Barrie Hunter) and Kate (Irene Macdougall). Tensions escalate, conflicts exacerbate and secrets are revealed. As I say, it’s a dense play, and that means for the first half it’s a slow-burning interplay of characters that require you to remind yourself of their importance, mostly making polite conversation, but allow it to build and the payoff is tense and tragic.
Jemima Levick’s direction delivers what one would expect from a classic American drama; the vision of the American dream, glossy but unpretentious performances, and a gradual but rewarding build. That approach certainly brings out the best in the cast and the text, but it is at odds with the stark set. Most of the action takes place on a deck comprised of plastic pallets, with dead, spiny trees and fold out metal chairs scattered about them. The meaning behind it is clear, the barren stage reflecting the exposure of truth, and the strangeness of seeing the cast walking around the space and interacting with it as if it were realistic highlighting the idea that all their pleasantries are a shallow attempt to ignore the situation around them, both immediately and nationally. It’s also convenient for the dramatic final scene involving rain showering down from the rafters. It’s certainly clever, but at times the clash between direction and design distracts from the drama.
The stage is awash with strong performances; Cahill is endearing as the emotional heart of the show, and his chemistry with Kennedy as the conflicted but lovable Anne is the perfect anecdote to the secrecy surrounding them. Joe’s character arc is brilliantly handled by Hunter, his good intentions and warmly gruff nature make the final scene all the more devastating. The stand-out performance, however, is Macdougall. Her Kate is positively riddled with tragedy and denial; at any given moment you can turn to her and see the cogs turn in her head as she tries to maintain her self-made delusion. They do justice to their characters and revive a beloved and heart-wrenching play faithfully. Four stars.
Whispers from the crowd:
Well that hit like a sledgehammer