Arthur Miller’s play on the demise of the American Dream is getting a timely resurrection, says PETER FROST.
Death of a Salesman
Royal & Derngate
AMERICAN communist playwright Arthur Miller’s (below) Death of a Salesman was first performed in the US and Britain in 1949, just as the cold war was starting to hot up.
It won that year’s Pulitzer prize for drama and the Tony award for best play.
But that didn’t stop Edgar J Hoover’s FBI banning any production in war-weary mainland Europe, where the US was busy selling the American dream, on which Miller was casting so much doubt, as a bulwark against communist ideas.
In the seven decades since, the play has been constantly revived on both sides of the Atlantic, winning a well-earned reputation as one of the greatest dramas of the 20th century.
Now it’s on at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate, continuing that theatre’s ongoing fascination with Miller and his work. Exactly two years ago, the Royal premiered Miller’s previously unproduced play The Hook to rave notices.
In the Death of a Salesman, Miller uses his Marxism to explore the true nature of the American Dream and finds it wanting. He portrays Willy Loman as a salesman who, nearly past his sell-by date, faces unemployment. But he still loves “the American way,” thinks personality is power and that life is only about the next big deal.
Some critics might question the relevance of yet another revival of Miller’s best-known work but Loman’s beliefs have a remarkably contemporary feel. Coincidentally, on the night before I saw the play, Donald Trump gathered his cabinet together to tell them: “We’re going to make the American dream come true for a lot of people.”
Director Abigail Graham and set designer Georgia Lowe bring a timeless quality to this new production but Miller’s original message still shines through.
Tim Piggott-Smith had originally been cast as Loman but his sudden death in April saw Nicholas Woodeson (pictured) taking on the role and he does so masterfully, while Tricia Kelly as Linda Loman and Michael Walters as Bernard also shine.
The production tours nationally after its Northampton run and is definitely a must-see.
Runs until Saturday June 17 and then visits Edinburgh, Truro, Guilford and Oxford, details: royalandderngate.co.uk
This review first appeared in the Morning Star 17 June 2017.