All My Sons, Richmond Theatre
dir: Michael Buffong
Upon finding my seat in Richmond Theatre I remembered the last play I had seen was A Season in the Congo at The Young Vic. Prior to that I recalled going to watch the all black production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Before this, I watched The Mountaintop with David Harewood. I started to realise that all black casts were fast becoming a prerequisite for me to consider watching a play. To satisfy the equality and diversity champion within, I made a mental note to myself to book tickets for Wicked. Or perhaps The Bodyguard, as a compromise.
Notwithstanding, there is nothing more satisfying than watching words, passively understood to belong to white people, emerge from the mouths of African and Afro-Caribbean counterparts. To enable a full reconsideration of narrative, history and culture through a simple change in casting is a worthwhile exercise. It helps to reverse inequalities of the times in which such plays were written, and the current times in which they are performed.
This Arthur Miller play is about hope, which turns into denial, love, which turns into truth and justice, which turns into tragedy. It’s about the choice between being practical and winning, and being honest and losing. Multi-faceted and complex, I can think of no better piece to contribute to the idea that the black American experience is more than one of civil rights and slavery – All My Sons is an American story, and a narrative, however damning, that belongs to African Americans too.
Kate Keller (Dona Croll) steals the show – a quick witted matriarch perfectly pitched so even in her attempts to manipulate and her more manic moments, she is still a loveable figure deserving of sympathy. The rest of the cast support powerfully, emitting the presence of unrequited love, disappointment and compromise in their lives with enough subtlety to no doubt remind the audience of the presence of the same in their own.
Watching black men play the roles of a successful tycoon, an astrologist, a lawyer, a doctor alongside women who are young, old, optimistic and fatigued is just the fresh air the diverse audience needed to breathe in. These were not black actors playing black roles, they were accomplished actors playing world famous roles. In an art world where whiteness is presumed if no other race is specified, productions like this are so important.
The play is about a family that moves towards the realisation of a wicked, horrid truth at the heart of it’s success. I’d argue All My Sons is about honesty and an all black cast cements the practicality at the heart of the play’s message. People of colour are ordinarily positioned on the right side of American history; as powerless, as victims. In reality, we also occupy positions that seat us on the wrong; side by side with our white counterparts too.