Entertainment & Arts

All My Sons tour marks Arthur Miller centenary

Kemi-Bo Jacobs as Ann Deever and Dona Croll as Kate Keller in All My Sons Image copyright Pamela Raith
Image caption Kemi-Bo Jacobs as Ann Deever and Dona Croll as Kate Keller in All My Sons

The centenary year of playwright Arthur Miller's birth is being marked with an explosion of productions around the UK in 2015.

One of the first out of the blocks is a touring production of All My Sons by black-led theatre company Talawa.

The story centres on all-American couple Joe and Kate Keller, whose son is missing after World War Two.

Its director Michael Buffong tells arts correspondent Tim Masters what makes the play a 20th Century classic.

What does it mean to you to be taking All My Sons on the road in Miller's centenary year?

The fact that it's a centenary year shines an even brighter spotlight on what is an amazing piece of work and an amazing writer.

We originally performed this in 2013 and I'd love to say I planned the tour for the centenary, but the truth of it is that it's a coincidence.

What makes All My Sons an American classic?

The themes are so universal. On one level it's about chasing the dream and the cost of trying to live it. The themes that come out of the play are issues of loyalty and trust and betrayal, and secrets within families and how people collude and how ultimately everything can come falling down.

The themes are so universal - what would you do for your family? Joe Keller thinks anything is forgivable because it's been done for his family but he doesn't have a wider social responsibility. That's his downfall.

The 2013 production earned five star reviews - does that add pressure to taking it out two years later?

I haven't thought about it. If I did I might not sleep too well. I guess it might add a bit of pressure.

I read reviews, you can't help it. One has to be able to take them - the good and the bad.

Given that it was such a hit, how much are you tweaking this time round?

Like with any fantastic play once you get to revisit it you realise its depth - we are finding so many new things. Half the cast are different so it can't be the same because they bring new elements. It just goes to show the quality of the text: there's always more to unearth.

Does having a black cast give the play a new perspective?

It certainly gives it a nuance. If you think of a black family trying to achieve the American dream suddenly the stakes become higher still because of black history in the US.

But it essentially remains the same story: it's a family drama, and this family is an all-American family.

You took over Talawa in 2012 - are there still things you want to achieve?

I'm just at the beginning. The past three years have been great and we are starting to achieve some of things we set out to do. It's great that we get do do All My Sons, and we get to work with the companies like the National Theatre as we did last year with Moon on a Rainbow Shawl.

We've got a writers' programme working with the Bush and Soho Theatres and the BBC, and we have a space we are desperate to develop into a 100-seat venue. We are looking for funding to do that.

What's the latest on workshops you've had with Lenny Henry on a play about the American comedian Richard Pryor?

We are still in the workshopping process. It's in development. I hope it will come to the stage. We are both keen to see it happen.

All My Sons, with a cast led by Ray Shell and Dona Croll, has opened at Ipswich's New Wolsey Theatre, and tours until 25 April. A full list of tour dates is on the Talawa website.

Some other Arthur Miller productions in 2015:

Following its sell-out run at the Young Vic, A View from the Bridge, with Mark Strong leading the cast, opens at the West End's Wyndham's Theatre on 16 February, and is now in preview.

The RSC's production of Miller's 1949 Pulitzer prize-winning Death of a Salesman begins previews in March at Stratford-upon-Avon, with Antony Sher and Alex Hassell as father and son, Willy Loman and Biff.

Sian Phillips leads the cast of Sheffield Theatres' revival of Arthur Miller's Playing for Time from 12 March - 4 April at the Crucible.

A drama originally written by Miller for the big screen, The Hook - about corruption in New York's docks - has its world premiere at Northampton's Royal and Derngate theatre on 5-27 June.

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