“Attention must be paid”. Key to Death of a Salesman, key to all Arthur Miller’s troubled protagonists,
is this idea that the tragedy of one man is something
we must acknowledge –the audience must recognise one man, to see his worth and his good for all his flaws. The RCS’s current production of Death of a Salesman (now playing at the Noel Coward Theatre) understands this perfectly, staging a stellar version of one of the Great American Plays.
In terms of production values, this is the very definition of
“good theatre”. Doran’s direction is perfect, the set is great, the live jazz
performed backstage is super, and the performances, as to be expected by a cast
headed by Anthony Sher and Harriet Walter, are fantastic. Sher is, of course, great. Walter gives Linda a quiet dignity, often missing from the “put-upon
wife”, whilst Alex Hassell’s portrayal of Biff is wonderful. For the
performances alone, go and see it.
I recently saw Ivo van Hove’s phenomenal production of A View from the Bridge, which stripped the text of the kitchen sink setting, elevating it from the context of McCarthyism,
transforming it into a universal, eternal tragedy. Doran’s production however,
is far more self-contained, almost like a diorama or automated display at a
museum. It is firmly rooted in 1950s Brooklyn, within the claustrophobic tenements
of New York. I suppose that is Miller’s greatest strength as
a playwright – his plays have a duality within them, using one environment to
speak for something timeless. Doran’s production is no worse for its
traditionalism; his production showcases the play for what it is – a story of fathers and sons, a story of identity, an indictment of a nation which sells a man a dream in return for
It is perhaps unfair of me to compare the two productions –
they are different plays, both are certainly great productions, and, with all
theatre, personal preference plays a part (A
View from the Bridge is my favourite of Miller’s plays, whilst Death of a Salesman is my second). Yet
with the centenary of Miller’s birth being celebrated, I can’t help but look at
them in relation to each other.
If individual identity is key to Miller, then it is both
productions’ interpretations of their leading men which reflects Miller’s
skills as an author: Mark Strong’s Eddie Carbone stood for every man from the
Greeks to now, whilst Sher’s Willy Loman is just one man. This production makes no
sweeping statements, stands for nothing more than the fact that once there was
a man called Willy Loman, and that attention must be paid.