Death of a Salesman
11th Nov 2014
Death of a Salesman is the tragic story of a man hindered by his own choices and trapped by the circumstances those choices have created. It is a complex play, exploring themes of family, loyalty, honesty, heroism, ambition, self-worth and self-awareness.
Willy Loman has built his life on a fabric of dreams and fantasies, fooling himself and everyone around him that he is successful and popular. He is plagued by a sense of inferiority, and the need to achieve, to be seen to be an achiever, chasing the elusive American dream but never quite making it. As the play opens he is a man on the brink, desperately trying to cope with the reality of a life that has not lived up to the dream. In a series of flashbacks we see his life disintegrate, as everything he has worked for is taken from him his job, his relationship with his sons, his self respect. It is sad to watch and to gradually realise that this man has made the wrong choices in life - that in fact his misconceived notion of success has become self perpetuating failure. He sees success in terms of money and position instead of happiness.
The play is presented with a deceptive simplicity, from the set, with its backdrop of symbolic suitcases to the subtle lighting changes for flashbacks to his earlier life. It is an intensely moving and emotional play. Willy Loman (Michael Short) could easily be a dislikeable character, he is moody, irascible, intolerant, contrary, but also vulnerable and defeated. His sons have been pushed to follow his path to success and both have failed, Biff (Jonny Lavelle), the blue-eyed boy, captain of the football team and rising star has failed and his relationship with Willy has broken down irreparably, drifts through life unable to hold down a job, while Happy (Craig Fairbairn) has followed his father into sales, even to the point of embroidering the importance of his position to appear more successful than he actually is. Of all the characters happy is the least sympathetic, taking on all the worst characteristics of his father and refusing, even at the end, to see his faults.
The steadying voice throughout the play is that of Linda Loman - she cajoles, and soothes, justifies and defends Willy, and she speaks the truth to her sons when it is needed. Her character is beautifully played by Kath Frazer, and the final scene is heartrending as she tries and fails to understand her husband's death.
This is a demanding play - anything short of a strong performance and it would not work, but the cast and directors (Ann Short and Brian Green) have achieved a fine production. They succeed in eliciting a sense of empathy in the audience for characters who have much in them to dislike, and that is a remarkable thing!
Death of a Salesman runs until 15th Nov.