Death of a Salesman is Arthur Miller’s masterpiece, a powerful modern tragedy which touches upon the issue of what makes one happy and what keeps a family united. This production by the RSC is certainly a special gift to celebrate the centenary of Miller’s birth.
The play focuses on the life of Willy Loman, who has been a salesman his whole life, struggling to be the best possible provider for his family. He now realizes that his world is falling apart as his two sons prove unable to do anything substantial in their lives, and Willy himself feels too old and too tired to keep trying. Anthony Sher’s performance as Willy Loman is absolutely outstanding. He manages to portray the downfall of this old and tired salesman, and especially in the second half, the transitions from the happy dream-scenes of the past to the nightmare of the present are impressive. Harriet Walter as Mrs. Loman is equally strong. Her struggle to keep her family intact and save her husband from destruction moves you to tears when you realize how much this woman has been going through her whole life without saying a word. Her outburst in the end is startling. Both Alex Hassell and Sam Marks, in the roles of the two sons, beautifully depict the contract between the younger and older versions of the boys, highlighting their decline and their inability to support the family.
Indeed, the production’s main strength is its very good cast. All main characters – with Sher and Walter standing out – manage to portray strikingly the complex relationships of the Loman family. The rest of the company, even though relatively less strong than the lead actors, contribute in the depiction of the family’s destruction and of the absence of any support from their community.
Director Gregory Doran has realized a solid staging of a difficult play, giving life to the complexities of a family like Loman where present and past turn into a struggle to understand when did everything fall apart. Set design by Stephen Brimson Lewis is effective with its construction of a double-storey house, but lacked creativity when it came to the depiction of Willy’s memory-scenes. Live music by Paul Englishby, despite being at times more lively than what expected, contributed in the build-up of the play and created very smooth transitions.
Death of a Salesman in the Noel Coward Theatre is a good production of an excellent play. Even though the overall staging seems to lack originality, the cast achieves to do the play justice and to make the audience feel pity and respect for this poor salesman who ended up sacrificing his own life for his family.