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Death Of A Salesman at the Noël Coward theatre

Published 14 May 2015

What’s it all about?

The nightmare that is the American Dream; the notion that in a land of abundant opportunity any hard-working schmuck can rise to the top.

They can’t, of course, and so we find the delusional Willy Loman, who has spent his life trying, finally coming to terms with his failure while his boys embark on their own journey.

It may not be cheery, but it’s a US classic for a reason; it packs one hell of a truthful, emotional punch.

Who’s in it?

Antony Sher leaves his last Royal Shakespeare Company role – the rotund knight Falstaff – far behind, to become the most painfully pitiable Willy Loman. As a rule I hate reviewers who comment on a performers’ physical stature, but the squat, tubby figure cut by a man who extols the muscle-bulging virtue of physicality and masculinity reinforces the picture of Willy as a pretty pathetic delusional whose life has been one embarrassing invention after another. In Sher’s exceptional hands he is, without doubt, one of the saddest characters you’ll ever see on stage.

The exquisite Harriet Walter, reuniting with Sher after 2006’s Antony And Cleopatra, is full of the quiet hidden strength of one intent on getting by regardless, holding a constant façade in place for fear of breaking the egg shells on which Willy walks.

Alex Hassell – Hal to Sher’s Falstaff in Henry IV Pts I & II – gives a performance of vein-popping anger and frustration as Biff, the son who knows Willy’s secrets and has wised up to the truth about chasing the impossible.

What should I look out for?

Stephen Brimson Lewis’ oppressive apartment block design, which brings a busyness and claustrophobia to the Noël Coward Theatre’s stage.

Willy’s showdown with his boss, when the full extent of his desperation and the invented world he has created for himself are laid bare leaving the most tragically feeble of humans standing alone and abandoned with a reality he can’t accept.

In a nutshell?

Never has a man so pitiable been so impossible to draw your eyes away from.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@jamesclossick Death of A Salesman last night built to a shattering climax after a slow start. Achingly real performances from Sher/Walter. #RSCSalesman

@nikkiiia Got #goosebumps from @TheRSC’s #DeathofaSalesman #RSCSalesman (London) it’s would be an understatement to say the cast blown me away…10/10

Will I like it?

Let’s not pretend this is an evening of light-hearted fun and frolics. It’s going to put you through the wringer and then some. You could even argue that Sher’s Willy Loman is too sad to feel sorry for.

You could, but you shouldn’t. There’s a reason Death Of A Salesman is always mentioned in ‘greatest modern plays’ discussions. It is bleak. It is gut-thumpingly brutal. But above all else it is truthful. Miller’s play works as a dramatic x-ray machine, exposing absolutely everything. When actors of this company’s quality, under the guidance of a director with the talent for clarity of Gregory Doran, get to grips with such text it is excruciating to watch, but impossible not to.

Death Of A Salesman is running at the Noël Coward Theatre until 18 July. You can book tickets through us here.

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