All Arthur Miller's plays are brilliant critiques of the immorality of capitalism. All My Sons, written in 1947, is no exception. It is from a true story. In 1941-43, Wright Aeronautical Corporation conspired with army inspection officers to approve defective aircraft engines destined for military use, resulting in planes crashing and pilots dying. Miller had been told of a daughter turning her father in after he had been caught selling the faulty machinery to the army.
Like any good Greek tragedy it is a tale of morality and dilemmas. The lead character Joe, the boss of the company, has committed an offence which then comes back to haunt him and tears his family apart. His partner and friend is still languishing in jail, blamed for sending out the faulty engines, while Joe himself was cleared years before. The older generation made their money from the war. Joe, as director, avoids taking any individual responsibility for the consequences of his business decisions - 21 dead pilots - taken for the love of his family.
The ability of people to completely deny reality is highlighted by Joe's wife Kate refusing to acknowledge the death of her son in a plane during the war despite all the evidence, as this may mean acknowledging her husband was responsible for his death. The torment for Joe's son Chris or his friend in jail's children who disowned their father, of wanting to do the right thing which may mean abandoning family loyalty, creates a tension that grips you more as the play progresses and at times is hard to watch.
The younger generation who have experienced the war, seen the deaths of all these sons, and are told they now live in a better world, hold higher ideals, superseding family. They think those doing well should at a minimum worry about the source of their wealth or "be put up against a wall" for "taking the blood soaked loot".
This production is by a groundbreaking company Talawa using an all black cast playing what has traditionally been an all white play. It may have been written over 60 years ago but is relevant and intense for today, as you see the contradictions of trying to separate the drive for profits from its consequences played out with all its tensions and tragedies.
All My Sons, is playing at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, until 26 October.