Death of a Salesman Review | Royal Exchange | Manchester
The moody Pulitzer Prize winning play by Arthur Miller offers audiences an intimate look into Willy Loman’s life. Despite his fragility, Willy’s archaic beliefs idealise a man's man, with a need to be perceived as a confident, self-made salesman that begins his undoing.
With plans to settle his final mortgage payment, plant veggies in his garden and sell on the company floor rather than continue on the road, Willy’s dreams appear reasonable and attainable. Yet his garden is blocked off by the overshadowing apartments surrounding his house, and he works solely on commission with dwindling sales figures. Calving out a piece of the American Dream through a long-standing commitment to a company, Willy hopes to end with a decent retirement package, but his dreams are easily collapsible under the weight of the capitalist system.
After selling on the road for decades with little to show for his efforts, Willy travels home to find his sons dissipate his image, merely with their presence. With his worth attached to social status and wealth, director Sarah Frankcom creates a vacant but stirring environment at the Royal Exchange, that orbits around Willy. The shadowy and sunken set allows cast members to sit on the sidelines, judging him from afar amongst the audience. A symbol of the broken American Dream, Willy demonstrations how we can all be seduced by the glitz and glamour of success without questioning the flawed reasons we strive for it.
Family and friends demote his missed opportunities and increasingly arrogant attitude as passing blips as Willy clings to the belief that effort is secondary to personality. With romanticised visions that allow him to live in a bubble of the past, his wife and friends facilitate his unwillingness to change. Sanitising his suicidal thoughts as being exhausted and devalued, they become instigators for his old-fashioned mentality that is broken when his son Biff returns home.
Don Warrington returns to the Exchange after the success of King Lear with an equally spiralling and destructive character. Alongside Ashley Zhangazha and Buom Tihngang, the straightforward story is cemented with utterly gripping performances. The main cast members do not often leave the stage, but scenes take seamless turns from comedic to heart-breaking moments. Dreams and reality merge with little altered than the lighting and sound, allowing Willy’s warped mind to be enclosed in on the claustrophobic stage. Despite Willy’s foreseeable fate, this production remains an engaging ride to watch.
Death of a Salesman challenges the perceptions of poverty, progression and societal values, finding that quality of opportunity is no longer a given within our ruthless system. The play was written in 1949, before Miller was summoned in front of the McCarthy commission and accused of undermining the American way of life. Miller has contested that Willy's story is not about communism or capitalism, instead stating that it is merely about a man robbed of his dream. Yet when sons Biff and Happy look to the future with different outlooks on life, it is difficult to dismiss the rampant greed among the rich that continue to hold countless Loman’s in a sealed fate.