Fringe Box



Review: Death of a Salesman – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 5 Jul, 2017
Updated on: 5 Jul, 2017

By Alice Fowler

Death of a Salesman is Arthur Miller’s famous exploration of the American dream.

Almost seventy years since it was written, its themes – ambition, failure, the pressures of parental expectation and the lies families tell in order to survive – remain as relevant as ever. This is a faithful, gimmick-free production – no Donald Trump lookalikes on stage here – though in a play which skewers the notion that appearances are all, you may sense his presence, hovering in the wings.

Nicholas Woodeson plays the salesman, Willie Loman. As his name suggests, he is a “low”, ordinary man, struggling to earn enough commission to keep up with payments on his refrigerator and car.

Willie has believed utterly in the American Dream; only to find, as he grows older, that the dream is worthless. Woodeson, who stepped into the role after Tim Pigott-Smith passed away during rehearsals, is a convincing, likeable Loman, his features visibly lifting and sagging as his character lurches between hope and despair.

As Loman’s life disintegrates, his attention shifts to his sons Biff and Happy, who have returned home at the start of the play. Apparently bright, sporty, all-American young men, both have been fatally corrupted by their father’s ambition.

…this is a vital, entertaining production not to be missed…

Biff (George Taylor) unable to live up to his father’s inflated image of him, is a kleptomaniac, unable to hold down a job; while Happy (Ben Deery) is a compulsive womaniser. Back home, they are shocked to find their once-invincible father in crisis and their mother Linda (Tricia Kelly) struggling to sustain and protect him.

How much does Linda know about her husband’s life on the road and the secret – Willie’s involvement with another woman – which has haunted Biff for many years? Quite a lot, this production hints, so that Willie’s infidelity becomes yet another deception woven deep into the fabric of the family.

As the play progresses, Willie is haunted by the past and the character of his “successful” brother Ben. The action flicks effectively between past and present to as Willie’s mental state deteriorates. The lies which have been nurtured for so long begin, inevitably, to fall away, and there are moments of searing honesty as the play reaches its conclusion.

On tour from the Royal & Derngate in Northampton, this is a vital, entertaining production not to be missed.

*Death of a Salesman continues at the Yvonne Arnaud until Saturday, July 8.

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