Review: Death of a Salesman

Sher makes an art of suffering


You can argue the toss as to whether Miller's classic is, as Antony Sher and his director (and partner) Gregory Doran claim, the greatest American play. Tennessee William's Streetcar is in with a shout as is O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night. But Salesman's greatness is not in doubt. It's a play that demands as much from its director as from as its actors. It is set in both in the mind and memory of its hero Willy Loman, whose life of hard graft has come to nothing. And it is in the play's transition between these two states that the play flies or falters.

Doran's use of sudden changes in lighting doesn't always succeed on this front. But Sher is on terrific form as the man for whom the hope that he can lead a dignified life after 50 years in the job and on the road, is seeping though his fingers like sand.

There is a sweaty desperation about Sher's Loman that only abates with self delusion. In his tight-fitting suit, the rotund Sher resembles a drowning beetle. The more he struggles, the more he sinks. And although the production itself doesn't delineate as well as it should between mind and memory, Sher himself is brilliant at it, jabbing a finger at his successful brother when his sibling is standing in front of him, and then continuing to jab after he has gone.

It's a performance of great detail and considerable anger. Yet it is Harriet Walter as his long-suffering wife who finds unexpected depths here. She is the one who declares that attention must be paid to her husband. But so compelling is her world-weary loyalty, Walter's performance demands that attention must also be paid to Loman's wife.

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