DramaReviewSouth West

Death of a Salesman – Northcott Theatre, Exeter

Writer: Arthur Miller

Director: Abigail Graham

Reviewer: Karen Bussell

Raw and intense, OpenWorks Theatre artistic director Abigail Graham gives little let-up in her interpretation of Miller’s iconic 1949 dissembling of the American Dream.

Georgia Lowe’s uncompromisingly bland grey set focusses attention on the unravelling of travelling salesman Willie Loman (except when slides are opened a tad too far allowing a glimpse of backstage). Despite desperate feisty moments of talking the talk, the weary, equally grey, man’s great delusions of popularity and riches are punctured and dissected with unashamed precision.

Nicholas Woodesman (who picked up the mantle at short notice after the untimely passing of Tim Pigot-Smith) is impressive and believable as the shuffling, confused Willy whose self-created edifice is crumbling fast with denial becoming ever more difficult and a length of rubber hose increasingly the diamond in the jungle.

George Taylor is charismatic and on-point as nemesis Biff. Most compelling both in his own breaking free from fake memories or recreating schoolboy glories, he heartbreakingly bears a secret to the grave despite the dysfunctionality of the family and his own foibles – and Taylor makes us care.

Another latecomer, Tricia Kelly plays Linda as a somewhat downbeat but utterly faithful wife, darning stockings and keeping a tight hold on household accounts. She has a little grasp on reality and, along with generous neighbour Charley (Geff Francis), portrays a modicum of sanity within her fast-deteriorating, hollow, humdrum world willing to even sacrifice her sons for the husband she thinks she knows.

Graham’s blending of past and present, reality and illusion works beautifully as the tension ramps up almost unbearably as the disposable salesman’s ultimate pitch implodes.

Thom Tuck is nicely patronising as bang-up-to-date Howard, busy and commercial with too many things to do and people to see to reward loyalty or put a price on the provenance of his name; Ben Deery is also-ran Happy, indoctrinated and desperate to please, full of false importance and scoring points over his bosses by seducing their fiancées while Michael Walters’ buoyant Bernard shows that the Dream is indeed possible whether well-liked or not.

Despite occasionally slipping accents, some muffled delivery, very smelly compost and that naff neon, just-in-case-you-haven’t-got-it-yet faulty Land of the Free signage, Graham does the 1949 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning modern tragedy justice.

Runs until 3 June 2017 | Image: Contirbuted

 

 

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