Royal Exchange, Manchester – until 17 November 2018
Death of a Salesman is widely considered one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. It’s a classic and well-studied text, and it was always going to withstand the test of time. In this production at Manchester’s Royal Exchange, Sarah Frankcom steps up to direct Arthur Miller’s masterpiece, and the result is scorchingly brilliant production which shoots straight into the heart of a modern-day audience.
Don Warrington, last seen as King Lear at the Royal Exchange, takes the role of Willie Loman, a man at the close of his life. In a self-deluded and bitter bubble, we see Willie in the last two days of his life – his belief in the American Dream of easy success and wealth, contrasted with the tortured actuality of his situation.
It’s a production of beautiful binaries and dreamlike contrasts: the round rusting stage hints at decaying industry, and the foliage hangs, just out of reach, like a canopy over the stage indicating the potential for hope, newness and growth. Warrington’s Loman is like a fast river current – his visage often impassive, but his body tense, on edge. Twitchy fingers. Stuttering, strained speech. Everything feels uneasy and fragile, and perfectly so.
Maureen Beattie as Loman’s wife Linda, nurturing and compassionate – though guarded with nerves of steel. Loman’s sons are perfectly cast with Buom Tihngang as Happy, and Ashley Zhangazha as Biff. Happy trudges along in his father’s wake – eager to please, suited and booted – blinkered to the mundane pattern of life. And Zhangazha, as Biff, fresh from his well-deserved UK Theatre Award, gives a phenomenal performance. Gripping. Heart-wrenching. The cast is visible onstage, even when they do not feature in the dialogue centre-stage. Sat on the edges of the circular stage, mirroring the audience, watching Willie’s devastating downfall.
Frankcom takes on all of the complexities of the play, the psychological blurs and switches in Loman’s mindset, with a stunning and fluid directorial hand. Death of a Salesman resonates more than ever and certainly this was evident from the audience’s reaction on the night I attended. Uncomfortable though hauntingly timely.
Death of a Salesman runs at Manchester’s Royal Exchange until Saturday 17th November 2018.
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