A CurtainUp London Review
Death of A Salesman
Willy's lack of success as a salesman might well be due to a career spanning the Great Depression of 1929 and the 1930s. However, I found it hard to believe that Sher's Willy ever had the charm to sell anything to anyone. In the hands of Gregory Doran, Miller's play has become a study in tyranny rather than misplaced ambition and hope.
Sher's opening scene sees him returning from a sales trip, weighed down with suitcases. He keeps having accidents in the car, which have pushed the insurance premiums up to the unaffordable. He is red-faced and complaining; his conversation is a single long complaint. With Linda, they are a tragic couple. Willy is curmudgeonly and cantankerous to his wife while the boys play out on the higher level of their twin bedroom. They are talking about their employment prospects and dreams.
Stephen Brimson Lewis' wonderful set shows the New York apartment blocks soaring up to the side with their iron fire escapes, pressing in on the cramped space of the Lomans' apartment. Emphasizing the claustrophobia of the "almost paid for" apartment is the double bed adjacent to the kitchen sink but accessed by walking round the back of the set.
The cruelty of Willy to his wife in cutting off her every sentence offends. His hectoring of her mending her stockings while he gifts pairs to his mistress in Boston rankles. Poor oppressed Linda Loman! Her loyalty to him seems inexplicable.
After the interval, we see an increasingly hopeless Willy try to re-negotiate his position, each time asking for less and less salary. Old loyalties are forgotten.
Act Two sees more optimism as Biff plans a new business and Willy has renewed hope for a better future. The scheme unravels as Miller explains the earlier failure of Biff to progress his football career and the reasons for this. As Biff explains how the present day interview went badly, in a flashback, Biff's school friend Bernard (Bernie Ross) rushes in with news of Biff's flunking of the Maths test for college entrance.
Doran's harsh rendering of the central character of Miller's play sees desperation and the desolate destruction of the American Dream in a most bleak production. The magnificent final scene at the funeral sees Linda come into her own.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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