Director: Gregory Doran
Writer: Arthur Miller
Reviewer: George Attwell Gerhards
It’s the centenary of Arthur Miller’s birth this year, which goes some way to explaining the recent plethora of productions of (a very select few of) his plays. In the West End there is the transfer of the Young Vic production of A View from the Bridge, and the same play is being toured nationally. There is also a tour of All My Sons going round the country and now the latest offering from the RSC is none other than possibly Miller’s magnum opus – Death of a Salesman, described by director Gregory Doran as “the greatest American play of the 20th Century.”
Death of a Salesman charts a day in the life of Willy Loman, a man who has worked hard all his life for very little reward, only to realise the dream he had for his two sons is far from the reality he finds himself in. As his mental health deteriorates and events begin spiralling out of control Willy struggles to face the facts of his ordinary life. The play is epic in nature, discussing themes such as death and legacy, commenting on (as most ‘Great American dramas’ do) the ‘American Dream’ and the unattainability of contentment. It is a truly remarkable literary achievement and deserves its place in the American literary canon. This production does a fine job of it too. Anthony Sher is a remarkable Willy, a touch abrasive at first but soon you realise his is a performance that grows and grows, adding depth throughout. His wonderfully phlegmy and nasal voice gives Loman a guttural strength and presence, and plays to the character’s flawed humanity. Harriet Walter as Linda is also excellent, giving a beautifully sincere performance in what could all too easily be a nagging, unlikeable rôle. The rest of the performances are a mixed bag including some weaker and formulaic acting from smaller members of the company.
Elsewhere, this is a good, albeit flawed, production. Stephen Brimson Lewis’ set is impressive in detail, but cannot be seen in its entirety from the sides of the thrust stage. This is an issue that permeates into the blocking as well, with some questionable directorial decisions The worst example occurs during one crucial scene set in a restaurant where Willy and son Biff come to loggerheads. This reviewer, and most others seated in the stage left audience, could only see Alex Hassell’s back. He’s a good actor, but he’s not that good.
To close, then, while this is an admirable effort and enjoyable enough; Death of a Salesman is a play that merits a production better than this, more finely tuned and consistent throughout. Moments of magic from Sher and Walter aside, this production rarely soars to the heights the play deserves.
Photo: Ellie Kurttz | Runs until 2nd May