Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman has been done many times but rarely, if ever, with the Lomans as a black family. This one change completely alters the original narrative of a man – Willy Loman – desperately seeking his American Dream at the expense of losing his family. With this casting, Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s production immediately adds tacit connotations of slave history, racism and another barrier to success at work, writes Michael Holland.
Willy’s dream of financial success after years of aiming for the top of his travelling salesman tree makes him just a shell of the man he once was, and finally results in utter disillusionment; his constant thoughts of money, while sacrificing himself, eventually lead to his demise. It is only in the flashback scenes that he can be seen as a proud, straight-backed man – a hero to his two boys and long-suffering wife Linda.
Happy and Biff, Willy’s sons, are very different in character but also very much brotherly. Their early father-son relationship sours over time as they cannot live up to his expectations and see him take out his anger on their mum. The house, just a final mortgage payment away from being owned outright, has become a prison for them all in this slow-burn, brooding and dark play.
Performances are excellent, and the clever set allows us to look back in time through windows, but there is a lot of inaction covered by too much shouting and too many words. It was like listening to the family next door having a row, but with memorable phrases instead of abusive swearing. And if you are not comfortable with people talking to ghosts and the ghosts talking back, then you’ll be as indifferent as I am about this Death of a Salesman.
Death of a Salesman is on at The Young Vic, The Cut, SE1 until July 13th. Times: Mon-Sat 7.30pm; Wed & Sat matinees 2.30pm. Admission: £10 – £40. Phone: 0207 922 2922