Joe Keller- Alan Brown
Kate Keller- Tricia Osborne-King
Chris Keller- Andrew Newbon
George Deever – Matthew Eades
Ann Deever- Laura Kenward
Sue Bayliss- Emma Kerby-Evans
Dr. Jim Bayliss- Tim O’Keeffe
Lydia Lubey- Jane Lobb
Frank Lubey- Jim Ward
Bert – Joshua Williams-Ward and Oliver Barrass
Director – Pauline Armour
Assistant to Director – Lisa Woodward
Stage Manager – Nicola Raithby
Set design – Andy Howell
Lighting Design – Andy Howell
Costume – Kerstin Beard
Arthur Miller wanted his play to open up on to a world he described as “undisturbed normality”. Yet as the play breathed into life, there was more of a Frank Capra, Americana feel to the proceedings. Everything was apple-pie sweet and you half expected Jimmy Stewart to swagger by, commenting on just how perfect the sunshine was. In this heightened normality, one was lulled into the feeling that this this was going to be a nice, wholesome slice ofthe American dream while all along it was raising its arm to slap you in the face in acts two and three. This is the story of the Keller Family: the well-to-do family down the street that everyone knows, loves, envies and is ever-so-slightly suspicious of. Neighbours wander in and out of their yard with the kind of saccharine-sweet pleasantries that would rot your teeth. Oh yes, all is well for the Kellers. Except … their eldest son, Larry’s plane was shot down and he’s been missing for three years. Mother Kate is almost batty in the belief he’s still alive; younger son Chris is sizing up his brother’s ex, Ann, for a wedding ring and Pappa Joe has a little bit of a murky past involving some faulty machine parts that cost pilots their lives and the whole “letting Ann’s dad take the rap for it” palaver. So far, so Happy Days; but soon Ann’s big brother George arrives with news from his dad in prison and a powder keg of a letter that soon unravels the truth and forces all concerned to deal with the reality and the consequences of their decisions.
I could write reams on the themes of the play but needless to say there’s enough emotional turmoil in here to keep EastEnders going for 30 years. Touching on guilt, lies, ideals, patriotism, loyalty, love and family, Arthur Miller’s play is such a trial, it seems ill-fitting to say I enjoyed it.
Pauline Armour has taken a team of actors and tech crew to produce something as near to perfection as I’ve ever seen on the BLT stage; she clearly knows the play inside out, given her many sterling productions and knows how to get her actors to push a line to evoke a tear or a chuckle. And how a simple subtle shift in the lighting can turn the mood of a whole scene. All of this played out against a idyllic, suburban homestead that I could have happily moved into myself. The set itself was so painstakingly accurate (something inside the house? Minor pick) that, combined with the July heat, it was easy to transport yourself away to the Kellers’ backyard. Kudos to Andy Howell, Bob Etherington and their team … I’m sorry the kids (in the next show) had to tear it down!
With a play like this, it had to be cast note-perfect and I must start with my good friend, Andrew Newbon. I’ve called Andrew on his last few shows, sometimes just phoning home, the same romantic lead. But without even saying a word he walked out ofthe house with a new-found bravado; a swagger I’d never seen before. He played Chris with a playful, boyish confidence that would fly suddenly into an enraged menace that had me fearing for the safety of Alan Brown! As Joe Keller, Alan too delivered a mesmerising performance. Devout in his belief that he was always doing the right thing, I found myself wondering ifthe damaged cylinder heads had gone into his son’s plane or if this was just another lie he’d convinced himself of. As a side note, it’s a testament to the power of his performance that even with the technical hitch of a letter falling off the stage at a key point, Alan stayed in character as he frantically plunged into the darkness of the front row to retrieve it without so much as a titter from the audience. Amazing! Keeping the Keller boys busy was dear, sweet Kate played by Tricia OsborneKing. In a play where she could have easily been outshone by the two shouting men, her fragile, cracking little world became all the more delicate through her portrayal of a woman clinging to hope any way she could find it. Laura Kenward as Ann was the kind of wholesome girl next door that every boy dreams of but she flourished when torn between her love for Chris and her own family. The last arrival on the stage was Matthew Eades, who even in the late stages ofthe play managed to shift the mood entirely. As he determinedly walked on, you could see the ensuing carnage trundling on with him. His frustration and anger were palpable and yet all managed to be maintained within the guise of manners and respectfulness. An amazing performance and here’s hoping we see more from him.
Rounding out the cast were a crew of fine supporting players: Jim and Sue Bayliss played by Tim O’Keeffe and Emma Kerby-Evans were resounding as what initially seemed to be the comic relief but transpired to be the voice of the real world. Particularly touching was Jim’s “Star” speech. The Lubey family were played by the always sublime Jane Lobb as Lydia, who was so wholesome you could box her up and sell her at Christmas. Then her husband, the ever chirpy astrologist, Frank played by Jim Ward, another newcomer (he accidentally got the part when his son auditioned!). Finally Bert, a cheeky, neighbo’lrhood kid played by Joshua Williams-Ward who has come a long way since Oliver! and gave a performance that was comic yet touching. I’d like to note that I also had the joy of seeing Oliver Barass play the same role, which they shared, during rehearsal and he too, gave a real boost of joyful youth to his scene.
Overall, I was amazed by the production. At points, I was genuinely on the edge of my seat, mouth agog at the events unfolding before me. Any minor errors or usual SNAFUs were easily overlooked and while technically this was an impressive show (hat tip to Nicola, Usa and Gerri), it has to be said that you could have performed this next to the bins outside and the remarkable delivery ofthe ten individuals would still have stunned you! •
– Wayne Sheridan
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