In a play which deals with the effects of war, it’s appropriate that many appearances, gestures, words and interactions have the effect of a firecracker. You’ve seen movies in which someone fixes a dozen time-bombs to the walls and sets them to go off one by one in the final scene, demolishing the fortress. All My Sons is like that, full of cleverly placed little explosions.
Guildburys at the Electric Theatre in Guildford, delivered those moments with power and precision. For those who don’t know the story, it deals with a wartime industrialist who is believed by his family to be innocent of knowingly selling defective engine parts that kill pilots. All of this is unknown at the start, so when the word “exonerated” is first spoken into a quiet suburban afternoon it appears as the explosion of the first little time-bomb, and the others arrive with equal surprise and ever increasing effect.
I was very, very impressed last night. A stong cast was headed by Mark Ashdown (superb New York accent) and Laura Sheppard as the industrialist and his wife, with Steve Graham as their lovely but combat-damaged son, and Catherine Ashdown as his lovely but conflicted sweetheart. They were ably supported by Jonathan Arundel, Oli Bruce, Jacqueline Tonkin and Claire Racklyeft, with a couple of super cameos by the excellent young Jared Field. When Paul Baverstock burst onto the scene like a little charisma grenade in the climactic detonation of the evening, as superb as he was, he didn’t eclipse the rest, which in a weaker cast he might easily have done.
I have to say that at times the dialogue was difficult to follow, which often happens when players adopt an accent, but my ear attuned quickly and the overall effect was very believably little-town ‘40s America. All the characters were clearly defined and vigorously presented. I completely forgot I was watching actors, they seemed so real and natural - even in the height of rage or the depth of despair - all excellent.
The set was lovely too - kudos to Rob Sheppard the director who somehow found time to be an architect too. Very, very impressive.
The sound and lighting designer also deserves mention - congratulations to Simon Price for an unobtrusive underpinning, including a great touch with an upstairs bedroom light accentuating the subtle tones of night.
The whole crew deserve congratulations for an excellent, excellent night of high drama. But I must return to praising the cast. And particularly to mention that Laura Sheppard’s breakdown at the end was amazing. Huge. Heartbreaking - and a fitting climax to a wonderful evening.