Death of a Salesman
Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in association with Cambridge Arts Theatre
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
From 04 July 2017 to 08 July 2017
Review by Sheila Connor
I have to admit that, having recently read the play, I was not really looking forward to this production but I found it works so much better in performance than in the reading and Abigail Graham runs a very tight ship keeping tension and attention close and focussed at all times.
The subject matter is not happy. Willy Loman (Nicholas Woodeson, trudging through the auditorium and wearily climbing the steps to the stage) is totally exhausted and dispirited having spent his life on the road as a salesman and he’s beginning to crack up. In the ‘Land of the Free’ one still has to earn a living, something which gets much harder as the years stack up. Old friends and contacts are gone, and loyalty means nothing to the young and upwardly mobile employers who are chasing their own dream. “Why must everybody conquer the world?” says Willy’s wife . She certainly has a point. If Willy had not been so anxious to strive for the American Dream of the fame and fortune which was supposed to be available to everyone he could have been perfectly happy as a farmer. As it is, not having achieved success himself, he advises his sons how they ought to go about it.
Georgia Lowe’s set is almost like a prison with tall grey walls enclosing the Loman’s small house, representing the high rise apartments which now surround them - oppressive and cutting out the light. Above kitchen and bedroom (consisting of fridge, table and bed) the Loman’s two sons are in bed listening to the conversation below.
As Willy looks back over his life the switch to earlier years is depicted simply by expressions and attitude, particularly well executed by the boys who look up to their father with love and respect, a respect which was lost for the elder boy Biff (brilliantly performed by George Taylor) when discovering his father giving the gift of silk stockings to a mistress instead of his wife.
Written in 1949, this is considered to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th Century covering so many aspects of life - ambition, achievement or lack of same, love of friends and family, often difficult relationships between father and son, regrets of things said or done, regrets of things not said or done and - most of all - what is it all for and is anyone really free?
Woodeson took on this role at short notice and, on stage the whole show, gives a towering performance of a man knowing he is at the end of his life. Whether sad and defeated, frustrated and angry, or happy in his role as father he is spot on every time, the scenes between him and son Biff particularly moving, yet stressful. The attention of the audience never wavers for an instance.
Great work too from friend Geff Francis as friend Charley, and a great transition from school time nerd to eminently successful lawyer from Michael Walters, while Tricia Kelly is the perfect loving, but worried wife Linda.
Recently graduated Sujaya Dasgupta also deserves a mention doing sterling work as uncaring prostitute or avaricious mistress.
Almost three hours long and the whole audience was engaged and involved from start to finish. A great play indeed and superbly presented.