Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s production uncovers new layers to Arthur Miller’s intense and profound play.
Having completed a sold-out run at the Young Vic Theatre earlier this year, this revival transfers to the West End for a limited run and looks set to be equally triumphant here thanks to two sensational performances from Wendell Pierce and Sharon D. Clarke as Willy and Linda Loman.
Death of A Salesman follows a tired and weary Willy Loman as he struggles to make ends meet as a salesman – wanting to do whatever it takes to make his and Linda’s life better, while despairing that his son Biff has yet to make anything of himself. What follows is a story of intense family issues that gradually builds pressure and strain on all of the family in different ways, while asking just how far you are willing to go for your dreams and ultimately is it worth it.
Discovering additional layers to Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer and Tony-winning play to create a fresh perspective on the story is no easy feat, yet Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell have managed to do so in this bleak but effective production by highlighting numerous parallels between the late 1940’s to the present day with regards to mental health and increasing work pressure. It is a production that reveals just how contemporary this play still is particularly with regards to ambition and the cost of following your dreams. The way in which the production captures Willy’s deteriorating mental health through Carolyn Downing’s atmospheric sound effects and Aideen Malone’s sharply focused lighting is heartbreaking to witness.
Throughout it all, you really feel each character’s pain, despair and anger – but it is difficult to really connect with it in places due to the vastness of the stage that can swamp the action a little bit. This can be really seen during the scene at the bar towards the end in which Willy hopes that Biff has made an important business connection – all the action takes place on one side, highlighting that the need for a more intimate space. You never feel as though you are truly allowed to get to know the family at the centre of it all.
However, this being said it is all the little touches that make this production stand out. The way in which the windows and doors, hanging down from the ceiling initially, are then used effectively to frame the characters to really expose their feelings of isolation and pain, while the use of music creates a wonderful poignancy particularly during the finale that is heartbreaking to watch. It might be a slow burning production but it is a consistently thoughtful one.
Helping to keep the tension bubbling nicely throughout are some stunning performances. As Willy, Wendell Pierce delivers a powerful and deeply engaging portrayal of a man who is in despair that his American Dream has not turned out as he had hoped, leaving him stuck between the past and the present. Sharon D. Clarke is a force to be reckoned with as Linda – strong, sharp (particularly as Linda rebukes her sons) but with a strong sense of loyalty – to see her despair over the way in which her family is falling apart, particularly as Biff and Willy argue is heartbreaking to see. Meanwhile, Sope Dirisu as Biff and Natey Jones as Happy deliver equally strong performances, capturing their conflicting feelings towards their father with great insight.
Powerful and emotional, this is an excellent production of Arthur Miller’s play – but it could use perhaps a more intimate theatre to allow audiences to increase the emotional engagement further and to make the outcome feel even more tragic.
By Emma Clarendon
Death of Salesman will play at the Piccadilly Theatre until the 4th January. To book tickets click here or visit: ATG Tickets, Love Theatre.com, From the Box Office, Last Minute.com, Theatre Tickets Direct.co.uk, Encore Tickets and See Tickets.