I was up in Manchester with business this week and a chance encounter with another theatre critic brought to my attention that it was press night for all My Sons at the Royal Exchange. Revelling in the chance to have a bit of a break from work I made my way to the splendid theatre that the Royal Exchange is.
A great theatre space is no good unless what’s going on there is also equally engaging. So what did I make of it? Well it’s a bit of a mixed bag to be honest. Act 1 and 2 really didn’t feel “performance ready”, it still felt like it was previewing with some actors waiting for their cues and not feeling fully assured of their parts. Act 3 made up for this as they really were firing on all cylinders by then, but perhaps it was a bit too little too late. I think director Michael Buffong knew that this climatic act needed special focus but perhaps he’s done that at the expense of the first two acts.
Don Warrington is the “big name” actor playing Joe Keller and unfortunately he is the weakest link in this cast. He has perhaps one of the worst American accents I’ve heard since Keeley Hawes in Rocket to the Moon and on occasions he wasn’t projecting so his lines were lost. It felt like he’d been cast without actually seeing if he could deliver on this demanding role.
Chike Okonkwo as Chris Keller and Kemi-Bo Jacobs as Ann Deever were the strongest part of the production. Their solid and intense performances as the lovers caught in the mess of their respective parents was wonderful to see.
The play itself is a classic, and its themes of forgiveness, family loyalty and love are as pertinent as ever. The anti –hero of Joe Keller is a complex character and Arthur Miller keeps the audience on the back foot with the twists and turns he’s woven into this story. Alas Joe’s ending is telegraphed early on in the play and so his fate comes as no surprise but appeared to shock many of the audience the night I was there.
This is a good play but let down by the casting. It felt more of a preview than a press night. I’m sure by a week or so into the run it’ll be up to speed and slicker. I was however disappointed by the lack of polish in Acts 1 and 2.
Stars : ★ ★ ★