Death of a Salesman at Noël Coward
In Willy Loman, Death of a Salesman gave the world an enduring tragic hero worthy of comparison to those conjured by the bard himself. It’s fitting then that it should be the RSC that brings Arthur Miller’s masterful commentary on consumerism and familial obligation in post-war New York to the West End stage in this new revival at the Noël Coward Theatre.
This production is an easy sell from the outset, built as it is upon a foundation of three powerhouse performances. Antony Sher in the lead role delivers a pitch-perfect study in frantically unravelling pride, while Harriet Walter’s subtly stoic turn as Willy’s long-suffering wife Linda provides a pure and poignant emotional centre from which the underlying morality tale can deviate. Alex Hassell’s portrayal of elder Loman son Biff is perhaps the stand-out, charting as it does the character’s 20-year evolution from high school idol to washed-up personification of the broken American dream with magnetic authenticity. Able support for the main characters comes from an ensemble that flesh out the period setting with a catalogue of compelling cameos and carefully perfected “New Yoik” accents.
It can only help, of course, that the company happen to be working with one of the finest texts in 20th century American literature. Arthur Miller’s genius for storytelling, characterisation and pacing pervades all in a play capable of keeping an audience utterly gripped throughout its two-hour running time. Pivotal scenes such as the hotel room visit, which becomes a cataclysm for the father/son dynamic that’s central to the piece, are always lean and punchy, yet full of intricate nuance.
There’s also nuance to be found in excellent set design from Stephen Brimson Lewis, which is not only eye-catching but capable of providing a towering embodiment of Brooklyn’s choking urban sprawl one moment, and an intimate window into a single character’s psyche the next.
Though each ingredient is executed to perfection, the net impact of this hard-hitting tour de force is still to transcend the sum of its parts and provide a near-flawless example of theatre at its best.
Death of a Salesman is on at Noël Coward Theatre until 18th July 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch a trailer for Death of a Salesman here:
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