Review: Arthur Miller classic is as true today as it was then

Alex Hassell and Antony Sher in rehearsal for Death of a Salesman. Photo by Ellie Kurttz
Alex Hassell and Antony Sher in rehearsal for Death of a Salesman. Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Death of a Salesman, Royal Shakespeare Company Stratford, until May 2

Death of a Salesman’s well-known Willy Loman (Anthony Sher) is a lonely old man, surrounded by people.

A true believer in the American Dream, he has been in decline for years.

All around him people are ‘getting on’.

Yet in spite of all his talk of status and success, all he really wants is to be liked, and to worship at the Church of Success in the congregation of his family.

Yet his faith has turned all of them, except his loyal wife Linda (Harriet Walter), against him.

His beloved boys, Biff (Alex Hassell) and Happy (Sam Marks) suffer from his ridiculous optimism, each unable to make more than a few dollars a day in a land of unimaginable wealth.

All around this blighted family others appear to be getting on, growing as tall as the buildings that drain the light from their tiny Brooklyn plot.

This play is said to be one of the greatest from the last century, and this production does it justice.

Direction, acting, lighting, stage design: everything combines to deliver its full power and pathos.

Set in the post-war American boom, it still speaks for us today.

For though we are now supposedly living in times of austerity, there remain 
enormous disparities in wealth.

The play stands up for all those trapped by groundless dreams and pointless jobs.

The two leads are stunning, of course, but it is Alex Hassell as Biff who deserves special mention.

He runs the gauntlet of uncontrollable emotions imposed upon him by his parents’ naïve faith, and is arguably a greater tragic hero than his father.

Rating 10/10

By Nick Le Mesurier