Death of a Salesman (Young Vic)

This much-lauded revival of Arthur Miller’s most performed play now has the Lomans as an African-American family resident in Brooklyn, and adds some snatches of melody to the tragic downward trajectory of Willy Loman, a salesman of over thirty years, once “well-liked” but now not even able to stay afloat on his commission.

Wendell Pierce in Death of a Salesman

Wendell Pierce in Death of a Salesman

It’s been a Miller-heavy few months, with five plays revived in London this year: The American Clock and All My Sons at the Old Vic, The Price at the Wyndhams, The Crucible at The Yard, and now this.

While the Old Vic imported American stars to headline All My Sons, the Young Vic has cast Wendell Pierce (of Suits fame) as the titular salesman, and he is pathetic and terrifying in equal measure as the man whose grip on sanity is crumbling as his fortunes decline.

Sharon D Clarke, Arinze Kene, Martins Imhangbe

Sharon D Clarke, Arinze Kene, Martins Imhangbe

Sharon D Clarke, who I saw earlier in the year in Caroline, or Change, is the strength behind the marriage. Her Linda holds things together even if you can see each line of worry etched on her face as the days progress.

This is an accomplished performance, completely believeable, from her clear affection for her husband to her distain for his arrogant, diamond-hunting brother Ben (Joseph Mydell), who “walked out of the jungle at 21 … rich”.

Wendell Pierce, Arinze Kene, Martins Imhangbe

Wendell Pierce, Arinze Kene, Martins Imhangbe

Sons Biff (Arinze Kene) and Happy (Martins Imhangbe) have been raised to see themselves as better than everyone else, even if reality fails to bear this out. Biff, once a promising footballer and student, is a farmhand. Happy steals other people’s girlfriends to mask his own insecurity and lack of professional advancement.

Willy’s thoughts, dreams and memories are depicted through brighter lighting, freeze frames, and a sense of the unworldy. Ben, on his handful of appearances, is often on the stairs in an auditorium aisle, glowing like a hopeful beacon.

Wendell Pierce and Maggie Service in Death of a Salesman

Wendell Pierce and Maggie Service in Death of a Salesman

Even Willy’s father musician makes his appearance, and the woman buyer (Maggie Service) who lusts after the stockings Linda is reduced to mending is a peroxide caricature.

This is a true American tragedy, in which the Lomans have been lost as their neighbours, Charley (Trevor Cooper) and son Bernard (Ian Bonar), have prospered. Willy Loman and his sons have become an irrelevance in a country which promised them so much.

Wendell Pierce and Trevor Cooper in Death of a Salesman

Wendell Pierce and Trevor Cooper in Death of a Salesman

The design of the set, by Anna Fleischle, is all hanging props, windows, tables. There are clever touches where the balcony is used for a couple of scenes, and where Biff’s call to his mother is shown in silhouette, his body language communicating his declining confidence.

Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell direct this emotional roller-coaster of a play, still relevant after seventy years. After its run at the Young Vic to 13 July, it transfers to the Piccadilly Theatre from 24 October to 4 January.

Photo credits Brinkhoff Mogenburg.


About Louise Penn

Writer, reviewer, editor, creative. Blogger since 2011. View all posts by Louise Penn

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