All My Sons
Seen at Theatre Royal, Glasgow;
touring until September 26
My Name Is…
Seen at Cumbernauld Theatre;
touring until October 2
Reviewed by Mark Brown
Michael Emans, director of Glasgow-based touring company Rapture Theatre, must have felt cursed on Wednesday’s press night of his production of Arthur Miller’s superb tragedy All My Sons. It was hit, not only with the illness of actor Paul Shelley (in the lead role of war profiteer Joe Keller) a few days before opening, but also a fainting fit, late in the final act, which afflicted Trudie Goodwin (playing Keller’s wife, Kate).
After a short intermission, the brave Goodwin was able to continue, her unsteadiness strangely appropriate to her character’s increasing distress. Even more impressive was the excellent playing of Keller by David Tarkenter, who stepped into the lead from his supporting role as Dr Jim Bayliss (a part that was taken on admirably by Stewart Porter).
One hopes, of course, that Shelley makes a rapid and full recovery. However, as long as he is away, Emans is blessed with a fine stand-in as Keller. Tarkenter is compelling and visibly diminishing as the businessman who, although exonerated, is still widely suspected of sending faulty parts to the US Air Force during the Second World War (leading to the deaths of 21 airmen).
Emans’s presentation is very much in the American-British tradition of faithful, realist renderings of classical texts. Neil Murray’s set, a whitewashed, middle-class American house with a carefully maintained front yard, is emblematic of the production’s steady approach.
The acting, however, is decidedly uneven. Robert Jack (Chris) and Bryony Afferson (Ann Deever, Chris’s love interest, and daughter to Keller’s imprisoned business partner) give strong performances. There is less assured playing in some supporting roles, not least Michael Moreland, uncertain and dubiously accented as Ann’s brother George, and Lyn McAndrew, who overacts neighbour Sue Bayliss.
There could hardly be a greater difference between All My Sons (a work of tragic theatrical imagination) and My Name Is…, Sudha Bhuchar’s verbatim drama for London-based Tamasha Theatre. It has often been said that verbatim theatre, in which, typically, political issues are explored by way of words spoken by the real people involved, is the result of “the failure of journalism”.
This is, perhaps, truer of Bhuchar’s piece than of any other verbatim play. Stephen Lawrence drama The Colour Of Justice (to take one notable example) was, arguably, necessitated by journalism’s failure to pursue the guilty.
By contrast, Bhuchar’s piece is about a story which received more than enough attention from the British press. The 2006 case of the Scots-Pakistani girl, known as both Molly Campbell and Misbah Rana, disgraced much of UK journalism.
When, following the breakdown of her parents’ marriage, Molly (the name she now lives under) went to Pakistan with her father, Sajad Rana, the UK mass media exploded with stories of her “abduction” and likely “forced marriage”. When Molly appeared on TV declaring that she had gone to Pakistan of her own free will and wanted to remain there with her father, sections of an embarrassed media changed tack, with lurid stories of Louise Campbell being an “unfit mother”.
Bhuchar conducted interviews with the three protagonists, and her play (in which names are fictionalised) is well-acted and scrupulously fair. Its integrity should chasten those elements in the media that were guilty, not only of sensationalism, but also of Islamophobia and racism.
That said, there is little director Philip Osment can do to make Bhuchar’s essentially journalistic work into something truly theatrical. Like so many verbatim dramas, one cannot help but feel that the right platform for it would be a TV documentary, rather than a stage.
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on September 6, 2015
© Mark Brown