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Death of a Salesman: Young Vic Theatre

July 10, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 29th June 2019).

Rarely has a production of this Miller classic explored with such bleak clarity the inner mind of salesman Willy Loman. The impressive jagged grey Anna Fleischle set is exploited by co-directors Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell to shed entirely new light on the person worn out by the system and his responsibilities (and assumed responsibilities) towards it.

There’s fine work from the entire cast. Wendell Pierce is a Loman on the edge. His grip is allowing the final sands of his life to slip ever more quickly through his fingers, and there is startling numbness where there should be pain.

That pain is transferred all-to-visibly to wife Linda (Sharon D. Clarke). Her final moments are such that she needs a real “moment” to recover at the final curtain. Before that, her good-natured indulgence of her ill-used husband descends into unbearable blackness when he leaves for work.

The difficult roles of Biff (Arinze Kene) and Happy (Martins Imhangbe) are cast with fine young actors. Kene gives Biff rare intelligence, not just the usual football meat. The revelation of his self-inflicted defeat builds until the last moment, with Imhangbe providing both the questions and calibration of the event. Their meeting with a pair of “ladies” (Jennifer Saayeng and Nenda Neurer) is also a fittingly sordid one.

In smaller yet pivotal roles, Joseph Mydell is the mythic Uncle Ben, whose ethereal appearances do much for both atmosphere and dramatic pace. Maggie Service plays her part in Loman and son’s downfall with conviction, Femi Temowo is the father who sets the wrong direction from the start, while Matthew Seadon-Young and Trevor Cooper as Howard and Charley are perhaps what could and should have been.

By opting for inner dialogue, there is a possibility that the rawness of the story is slightly glossed over. The significant musical element is perhaps overly soothing what should be nerve-jangling – though there is also an argument it in fact lends an underlining contrast.

What is certain is that the play has not just been revived, but re-thought with a unifying concept, and not just for the sake of exploring characters from an angle dreamed up by a directorial vision. This takes the well known people and attempts to understand the leading character and just what he represents to those around him, and to the nation in general, to the great satisfaction of the audience.

5 stars.

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