DEATH OF A SALESMAN
by Arthur Miller.
Noël Coward Theatre 85-88 St Martins Lane WC2N 4AU To 18 July 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2pm.
Runs 3hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 800 1110.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 May.
Attention is paid in detail.
“Attention must be paid,” says Linda Loman to her sons about her husband Willy. And it is, over three hours. Arthur Miller’s discoveries are not happy – despite the ironic nickname of one of the Loman boys. So, where does the fault lie?
In American life, with the new built-in obsolescence Vance Packard would be exposing within a decade of the play’s 1949 opening? Or in some form of the American Dream? Miller’s acts are surrounded by night, and the play has a dream-like fluidity, which Gregory Doran’s Royal Shakespeare Company production emphasises in the younger Lomans’ postures and manner in the flashbacks.
They’re also flashbacks to times of hope – before the Loman house was boxed-in by new building, before a new generation of boss arrived (though Willy’s new boss is hardly cruelty incarnate, and the scene concerned registers little anyway). And when Willy’s self-confidence was unbattered. Yet, as in Miller’s earlier All My Sons, good neighbours offer good sense while the central character’s jokey disregard for advice leads him to ultimate defeat. If American society is to blame, it still does well by most of Miller’s characters.
Miller drew a lot from Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, including the impact of fathers upon sons. Willy’s influence leads Happy and Biff to unrealistic expectations, disillusion and drifting. Doran highlights Alex Hassell’s Biff, his father’s great hope, who discovers Willy’s betrayal of the family.
Uncle Ben, the adventurer who made a fortune, appears as Guy Paul’s spectral wraith, a grey, unresponsive fixture in Willy’s mind, while insubstantiality underlies the heartiness of the boys and others. But the production’s heart lies in the Loman marriage.
Antony Sher points-up aspects another actor might merely mention in passing, adding to the production’s sense of detail. His moves between moods are defined and noticeable acting treasure. But Harriet Walter provides the play’s soul as Linda ages into anxiety. You don’t notice her acting; you’re simply made aware of a quiet American living her life through her husband, trying to shore up his life’s wreckage. Which is why, when she says attention must be paid, you pay attention.
Willy Loman: Antony Sher.
Linda: Harriet Walter.
Biff: Alex Hassell.
Happy: Sam Marks.
Bernard: Brodie Ross.
Woman: Sarah Parks.
Charley: Joshua Richards.
Uncle Ben: Guy Paul.
Howard Wagner: Tobias Beer.
Jenny: Helen Grady.
Stanley: Ross Green.
Miss Forsythe: Emma King.
Letta: Miranda Nolan.
Waiter: Paul Birchard.
Director: Gregory Doran.
Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell.
Sound: Jonathan Ruddick.
Music: Paul Englishby.
Music Director: Malcolm Newton.
Company voice/Text work: Michael Elliott.
Dialect coach: Rick Lipton.
Fights: Terry King.
Assistant director: Josh Roche.