Theatre review: All My Sons at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

‘It’s gonna rain tonight,” predicts protagonist Joe Keller. As one, the audience turned their gaze to a threatening sky.

Thankfully, we were spared a deluge, but it highlighted a problem with this venue. Arthur Miller’s masterful study of corrosive crime, deceit and guilt, in which past deeds cast long shadows, needs to feel unbearably oppressive.

As the noose tightens around the neck of Joe, whose wealth is the result of illicit wartime business, we should share his sense of inescapable doom. But the tension dissipates in the open air.

We’re too far removed from the actors, miked to compete with ambient noise. Instead of subtle performance shifts, we get histrionic music cues and the random appearance of extras. It’s a particularly solemn show and tell.

Tom Mannion overcompensates with his affected portrayal of Joe, gabbling lines at a high pitch, but Brid Brennan is magnetic as Kate, doggedly clinging to the belief that their missing pilot son Larry is still alive. She’s haunting in her denial, then suddenly dangerous when her zealotry is threatened.

Charles Aitken captures the petulant frustration of Chris, the Kellers’ surviving son and Andy McKeane is effective as the architect of Joe’s downfall.

Vivacious Amy Nuttall brings unusual strength to Ann, Larry’s sweetheart, who’s transferred her affections to Chris, and daughter of Joe’s jailed ex-partner.

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There’s comic relief from Matt Cross and Maddie Rice as brightly tactless neighbours, and Simon Wilson and Tilly Blackwood as a harassed doctor and caustic wife respectively.

Design boost

Timothy Sheader’s production gets a boost from Lizzie Clachan’s design, which contrasts a billboard of the perfect all-American family (including prominent Chekhov’s gun) with gnarled tree roots twisting down below.

This is a solid rendering, but never digs into those powerful primordial depths.

Until June 7.

Rating: Three stars