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Death of A Salesman

"Attention must be paid." — Linda
Death of A Salesman
Antony Sher as Willie and Alex Hassell as Biff (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)
Antony Sher's Willy Loman is the most unsympathetic I have seen. With his worn out cypher of a wife Linda, in Harriet Walters, they are an empathetic disaster. Even the boys Biff (Alex Hassell) and Happy (Sam Marks) lost credibility for me when they turn into gurning, grimacing caricatures playing their younger, father-worshipping selves hanging on Willy's every word.

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.

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Death of A Salesman
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Gregory Doran

Starring: Antony Sher, Harriet Walter, Alex Hassell, Sam Marks
With: Brodie Ross, Sarah Parks, Joshua Richards, Guy Paul, Tobias Beer, Helen Grady, Ross Green, Emma King, Miranda Nolan, Paul Richard
Design: Stephen Brimson Lewis
Lighting: Tim Mitchell
Lighting recreated by Simon Spencer
Music by Paul Englishby
Sound: Jonathan Ruddick
Fight Director: Terry King
Running time: Two hours 55 minutes with an interval
Box Office 0844 482 5141
Booking to 18th July 2015
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th May 2015 performance at the Noel Coward, St Martin's Lane, London WC2N 4AU (Tube: Leicester Square)
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