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Review: Death of a Salesman at The Royal Exchange Theatre


We are constantly reading that the biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide, and that one of the reasons for this, is their reluctance to talk to family and friends, about what they are going through.

Arthur Miller’s classic peek into the lives of an American family, and what lies beneath the façade of machismo, is sadly still relevant.

Imagine a scenario where everyone sees you as the stalwart, the one who leaves at the crack of dawn, driving for miles to work in a profession that is ready to spit you out, and you know it.

There are still bills to pay, but the biggest debt you cannot speak about, is the one you feel owe yourself. Your pride is in tatters, and your anger is the only thing that lets you know you are the man of the house.

Meet 63-year-old Willy Loman (played by the brilliant Don Warrington), a travelling salesman. He is a remote man, who for all his bluster, anger and frustration, is walking around in circles, in search of a purpose.

Don Warrington (Willy Loman) and Maureen Beattie (Linda Loman) Pic Johan Persson

His two sons are older, and like many of us, they have a version of their father, and like many of the other characters, they do not see the whole man. In fact, sadly some people do not see him at all.

Willy’s loyal wife Linda (Maureen Beattie) defends the man she loves, but she also tip- toes around him. This is because when the lights are out and America sleeps, she is fully aware that her husband’s constant tiredness is not just because of work. He is spent. Society is done with him, he knows it and so does she.

The most fascinating aspect of this wonderful play is the relationship between father and sons. None more so than between Biff (the ever-watchable Ashley Zhangazha) and his pa.

They fight and bicker but once the fire is put out they have respect for another but cannot find the words to express this. So they fight and hurt each other some more until they say way too much.

Buom Tihngang plays Willy’s younger son, the appropriately named Happy, who is upbeat and optimistic on the surface but like his father is unafraid to admit he is not as successful as he claims to be.

Rupert Hill has a great cameo role as Willy’s boss Howard Wagner who represents the new impersonal face of the company, further alienating the salesman from the life he once had.

Will Merrick’s Bernard is the younger face, emerging from the crowd, reminding Willy of the life he had which, like the sands of times, it is slipping away.

Sarah Frankcom’s production of this American classic is absolutely beautiful, from Leslie Travers’ beautiful set design, complete with a circular bench for characters to sit and watch, with us, as Willy’s life unravels, through to Jack Knowles’ stunning lighting, which highlights Loman’s restlessness after an unfulfilling and pointless day’s work.

Warrington’s portrayal of this man on the edge has a familiarity about it. He is meant to be an everyman, but far from ordinary, and the actor brings a downtrodden sense of ‘what now?’ through his body language – shouting and seemingly angry, but quietly contemplative inside. This means you enter the mind of a man who you want to reach out to.

Maureen Beattie’s sense of loyalty masks the fear that haunts her and she knows what many others in the community do not. This brilliant actress carries this around with her, like Willy’s suitcase, and it makes for a compelling performance.

Ashley Zhangazha returns to the Royal Exchange, following a great turn in Guys and Dolls and he knocks it out of the park again. You cannot take your eyes off him. Even when his behaviour towards his father is out of control, the actor retains your sympathy, as he shows you the complex layers that a young man carries around and keeps tucked inside.

Buom Tihngang is a quieter presence, but he is equally impressive as the younger brother who sees so much but blocks out a great deal because he is living his own lie.

Sarah Frankcom’s production of Death of a Salesman is a perfectly poignant portrait of a man no one really sees any more. It will break your heart, and it will make you sadly aware, that it is as relevant now, as it ever was.

Forget Netflix. This epic three hour plus play has more heart and power than a box set, and it packs such a mighty punch, that you will be thinking about it for weeks after.

Death of a Salesman is at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 17th November 2018.


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