Death of a Salesman – Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Writer: Arthur Miller

Director: Abigail Graham

Reviewer: David Robinson

The essence of an Arthur Miller play is that he boldly and regularly returns to his preferred themes: family, social responsibility and the pursuit of that all-American dream. Those keynotes are played loud and clear in this imaginative Royal & Derngate production of his 1949 classic. Death of a Salesman is justifiably regarded as one of the greatest American stage plays of the twentieth century.

Georgia Lowe’s unfussy and somewhat stark and cheerless set allows Abigail Graham to steer and illuminate her direction primarily on the Loman family. Willy Loman (Nicholas Woodeson) forlornly wants to believe that he is successful and that he is liked and admired as a father, a husband, and of course as a salesman. Simple ambitions. His dreams slowly fragment in front of a telling neon strip light helpfully keeping us posted about us entering the land of the free. From the opening moment as Willy Loman shuffles back home in his ill-fitting suit there is a palpable inevitability that his longed for dreams of success, financial stability and having sons he can be proud of will remain, despite the flashing signs, sadly unenlightened.

The simplicity of the production focusses responsibility acutely on the Loman family, Willy, with his wife Linda and two sons Happy and Biff. It is a responsibility eagerly accepted by all, with Woodeson capturing a fascinating fusion of haplessness and edginess that is an intriguing experience that he develops openly with a repressed anger and a rather disturbing lightness of touch. A joy to observe.

Tricia Kelly as Linda bravely attempts to hold the foundations of the dream together, her family. The strains are evident and Kelly plays Linda as a spent force, frazzled and fed up. Her moments on the phone to her son when she lights up with the prospect of good news is a delightful interlude. George Taylor cleverly brings younger son Biff front and centre of this dysfunctional family, a heartfelt performance full of contrast and care with some welcome softer moments in what is a fairly ingrained hard family narrative.

Thom Tuck as Howard is brash and painfully progressive as Willy’s new boss; he chases different dreams to Willy, as does Bernard the son of the Loman’s neighbour played with fun and unfamiliarity by an energetic Michael Walters.

The family unit pushes and pulls and noisily creaks with pain at times, the acting unit of four pay back the director generously for her confidence in them. Some slick lighting from Matt Haskins assists with the theme and that focus on the family home.

A sprinkling of line fumbles and a little tour of American accents distracts a touch, and the second half pace is somewhat ponderous but in essence Arthur Miller’s beloved themes and indeed the American dream flicker on with great feeling.

Runs until 17 June 2017 | Image: Manuel Harlan

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