DEATH OF A SALESMAN
RST, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 22nd April, 2015
Gregory Doran’s powerful production of this Arthur Miller masterpiece brings out the humour of the script, especially in the first half, and so Antony Sher’s Willy Loman is endearing from the get-go. A blustering, sentimental man, given to delusion, who hears what people say but doesn’t listen, Willy is always on the brink of something wonderful. He’s an indefatigable optimist. Meanwhile, life has gone on and he has got nowhere, apart from the eventual paying off of his mortgage and his hire purchase refrigerator. But being this way is taking its toll. He’s not the most mentally stable of men – and this is reflected in Stephen Brimson Lewis’s split set, which has several levels. It’s a representation of Willy’s mind and sometimes we are in it, as he relives memories, and sometimes we are in the real world, a bustling street or an empty restaurant.
Sher is the engine, the beating, sometimes racing, heart of the production, while Harriet Walter is his quieter, long-suffering wife, a steadier pulse to contrast with his flights of fancy. Sher’s Willy is to be admired, laughed with, despaired at, but Alex Hassell’s Biff – Willy’s elder son – gives us the most powerful moments of the night. Hassell plays both the broken 34 year old and the bright-eyed teenager to perfection, and moves us to tears in the climactic scene in which he tries to force his father to see things the way they are for once in his life. All aspects of the drama, of the production, lead to this outpouring and it’s heart-breaking.
Sam Marks is also strong as younger son Happy, who isn’t on as much, but in key scenes shows what he has inherited of his father’s nature. Tobias Beer gives a star turn as Willy’s boss Howard. A busy company take on small roles and walk-ons to flesh out Willy’s world, with Paul Englishby’s jazz (played live) helping to create the cityscape and period feel. Tim Mitchell’s lighting is linked to Willy’s moods: colours paint the tenement buildings, or sudden brightness shows Willy’s optimism kicking in.
It’s a tragedy of an ordinary man who sees himself as a king and his sons as princes, a man with an eye on the future instead of appreciating the present. Willy sells himself the dream and keeps on buying right until the end.
A superlative production soon to transfer to London, Death of a Salesman is an emotional experience but manages not to be heavy-going, as one might expect, reminding us that Miller’s work can be invigorating as well as exhausting.
Sher and Sonny – Antony Sher and Alex Hassell as Willy and Biff. (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)
Leave a comment | tags: Alex Hassell, Antony Sher, Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, Gregory Doran, Harriet Walter, Paul Englishby, review, RSC, Sam Marks, Stephen Brimson Lewis, Tim Mitchell, Tobias Beer | posted in Theatre Review
A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 26th March, 2015
Eddie Carbone is a hothead but a decent fella. He hasn’t got much but he has brought up his niece as though she is his own daughter. He welcomes his wife’s Italian cousins into his home when they arrive as illegal immigrants looking for work. Except perhaps he is a little too close to his niece, a little too possessive.
When new arrival Rodolpho turns niece Catherine’s head, Eddie can’t handle it, and the fuse paper is lit in Arthur Miller’s explosive powder keg of a play.
Jonathan Guy Lewis is utterly compelling as the volatile Eddie, whose emotions are never far from the surface. He is supported by an excellent cast: Daisy Boulton’s Catherine and Teresa Banham’s Beatrice are strong characters, although dominated by the man in their life. James Rastall catches the eye as the handsome Rodolpho, with his bright head of blond hair, his snake hips and animated conversation. His rendition of ‘Paper Doll’ is both hilarious and seductive. And he cooks, and makes clothes – what more could anyone want? – but he also brings out the worst in his host: Eddie’s jealousy.
We see all this from the remove of a narrator – Michael Brandon as Alfieri, a lawyer. It’s a framing device that leads us into the slum neighbourhood, in what is now a period piece. Brandon lends authenticity to the production but I have to say, on all sides, the Noo Yoik accents are particularly good. Liz Ashcroft’s evocative set – all telegraph poles and a fire escape – gives us enough of an impression of the place, while Paul Pyant’s lighting keeps things dingy and grim. Director Stephen Unwin offsets the narrated passages with freeze-frames: despite the naturalism, it is a story we are being told. It’s a gripping production, superbly presented and performed.
And Miller’s writing has a relevance today with immigration being such a hot topic. We are shown a human face to the migrant workers, desperate to make life better for the folks they have had to leave behind. When it goes belly-up for Rodolpho and Marco (Philip Cairns) we understand exactly what is at stake.
The tragedy is inevitable but nonetheless shocking – electrifying in fact. Eddie may only be a king in his mind but Miller shows us, even the ordinary man can be brought down by a fatal flaw in his nature.
The production is the result of a consortium of theatres, sharing resources and, of course, the cost. It’s the way forward for regional productions and an excellent way to ensure high quality work being seen outside of the capital.
Leave a comment | tags: A View From The Bridge, Arthur Miller, Daisy Boulton, Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, James Rastall, Jonathan Guy Lewis, Liz Ashcroft, Michael Brandon, Paul Pyant, Philip Cairns, review, Stephen Unwin, Teresa Banham | posted in Theatre Review
ALL MY SONS
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 24th March, 2015
Arthur Miller’s 1947 play – one of his great domestic tragedies – receives a refreshing new production from the acclaimed Talawa theatre company, with an all-black cast. It’s an interesting take and what ultimately comes across is that it’s not the colour of the skin, it’s the common humanity underneath it that gives this piece its power.
Joe Keller (Ray Shell) is looking forward to handing over his factory to grown-up son Chris (Leemore Marrett Jr) but Chris has other ideas. He wants to marry Annie the former girlfriend of his brother Larry, who has been missing for three years or so. Larry’s mother and Joe’s wife Kate refuses to believe that Larry is gone for good. She’s even got neighbour Frank to draw up a horoscope for Larry in the hope of reassurance.
Yes, there is tension beneath the surface but on the whole they seem like an amiable bunch – funny, even. But Arthur Miller won’t let things go on like this for much longer. Gradually, details bubble to the surface and patriarch Joe must face his past transgressions. Ray Shell is marvellous as Joe, paternalistic and funny. He and Leemore Marrett Jr share some explosive ding-dong scenes, beautifully handled by director Michael Buffong.
Also excellent is Dona Croll as the matriarch desperate to keep things together through the power of denial. In fact there is much to appreciate in this production, which comes across as more of an August Wilson than an Arthur Miller – but it is Miller who is the man of the moment – everyone’s doing him in this year marking the centenary of his birth.
There is character work to be savoured: Andrea Davy as neighbour Sue; Chinna Wodu as amateur astrologer Frank; Bethan Mary-James as Frank’s pretty wife (easily the most Tennessee Williams-like of the characters!) – all make an impression. Kemi-Bo Jacobs Ann is stylish and has great poise but I wish she wouldn’t roam around the set so much, like a graceful princess from a different story.
Director Michael Buffong needs to keep an ear on the accents, for consistency, so that they don’t roam around either.
Ellen Cairns’s beautiful set suggests the sultriness of a Tennessee Williams, although in this play it is not sexual worms that are spilling out of the can.
It all unfolds at a steady pace and though the ending has more than a touch of Hedda Gabler to it, Miller’s play still packs a punch and is served very well in this eminently watchable and emotive production.
Ray Shell and Dona Kroll (Phto: Pamela Raith)
Leave a comment | tags: All My Sons, Andrea Davy, Arthur Miller, Bethan Mary James, Chinna Wodu, Dona Croll, Ellen Cairns, Kemi-Bo Jacobs, Leemore Marrett Jr, Michael Buffong, Ray Shell, review, The REP Birmingham | posted in Theatre Review