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Theatre Review: Death of a Salesman

death of a salesman

Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

Director: Neil Armfield

Photo credits: Jeff Busby and Brett Boardman

Theatre Royal until June 23

Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP

It’s 1949 in Brooklyn, and Willie Loman is an old-school salesman in a hat and a brown suit. He is in his sixties and has been pounding the pavements and the roads for decades but progress has overtaken him. He thinks that he still has the chops for it but his last 700 mile sales trip resulted in no conversions. He has been more a journeyman than a hotshot salesman and his mediocre career is fizzling out.

Willie is proud, opinionated and narcissistic, not with physical vanity, but the world revolves around him and he excludes the perspectives of others, particularly his wife.

Willie talks up situations past the point of lying even though he is desperate, and his sons, Biff and Happy have inherited the trait. Even though they have grand ideas, their father’s intrinsic insecurity has rubbed off onto them.

death of a salesman

On opening night, Josh Helman as golden child Biff and Ben O’Toole as Happy turned in powerful, impressive performances, especially Helman because his role requires him to be torn between pursuing his dreams, performing to expectations, pleasing his father, embracing his self-doubt and being protective of his mother.

Anthony LaPaglia, who is an accomplished, veteran screen actor, has almost no experience on stage. It takes a powerful and skilled stage performer to project the vulnerability required for Willie Loman and LaPaglia took it up a few notches in the second half.

The performance of the night came from Alison Whyte as Willie’s devoted and long-suffering wife who has to hold the family together, be peacemaker and provide rock-like emotional support for Willie. She has inner strength and resilience but the latest series of issues are almost breaking her. You know how good a performance is when you can’t imagine another person doing it any better. Whyte is outstanding.

Minor cast members that include Anthony Phelan, Aisha Aidara, Paula Arundell, Elizabeth Blackmore, Marco Chiappi, Simon Maiden, Grant Piro and Tom Stokes hold their ends up well.

sydney theatre reviews

Dale Ferguson’s unusual set design is seating on scaffolding as you would see at an American high school sports ground, and the cast members who are not in the scene watch the action that occurs downstage.

In the first Death of a Salesman production that I saw of Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, one of the sons was played by a young actor named Mel Gibson, and in the second, Warren Mitchell was Willie Loman. Even though he used an American accent, I kept thinking of Alf Garnett.

There is no spoiler alert for this play because it’s in the title.


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