All My Sons - Octagon, Bolton - 02/10/09

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THACKER is back – with a bang. The new artistic director at this venue, David Thacker, was the man who helped establish the reputation of the Dukes in Lancaster in the 1980s, before embarking on a glitzy career in London, TV and the movies.

On the showing of this, his first production in the new job, he's not about to do Bolton any harm either.

Thacker can already boast more productions of Arthur Miller's work than any other director in the country so it might be argued he's starting here with a 'party piece' - a modern classic from a writer with whom he enjoyed a personal relationship.

All My Sons may centre on a war crime, but it is a big picture story played on to the small screen of American family life.

Through apparently cosy domesticity it can focus sharply on issues of idealism versus pragmatism, and honesty versus duplicity.

As the father who may, or may not, have sold defective engines to the air force George Irving gives another towering performance at a venue where he earned an award nomination two years ago.

Forget him as Dr Meyer in Holby City, or dozens of other TV characters; this is the role to remember, slipping with ease between affable patriarch and brittle businessman.

As his wife, Margot Leicester harbours all the composed mania of a grieving mother.

Patrick Connellan's simple yet effective set design imagines their house built not just on sand, but floating even more perilously above it.

Irving and Leicester (David Thacker's wife) along with Oscar Pearce and Vanessa Kirby (the latter making a striking professional stage debut) are also to appear in Ghosts here later in the month.

Both plays rattle skeletons in the cupboard like few others, but this one shouts to be seen and heard first.

It runs until October 24.

David Upton