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death of a salesman : in the heat of willy’s night

Helen Thomson and J
Helen Thomson and Jacek Koman in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Arthur Millers’s ‘Death Of A Salesman’. Pic Prudence Upton

I should state my preference in theatre straight away. I love works of Sturm and Drang, those works with plenty of dramatic  action and high emotionalism. It is with this preference in mind that the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Arthur Miller’s classic 1949 play DEATH OF THE SALESMAN was a good fit.

For weary, middle-aged  travelling salesman Willy Loman  the great American Dream, that success and happiness can be achieved by any American who is a regular, hard working person, has always been out of reach.

Miller’s play starts with Willy Loman’s world already starting to crumble around him. He has worked all his adult life as a travelling salesman and at his peak he was was successful. During this time he married his sweetheart and raised two boys.

Willy has comes across lean times. His company has taken him off salary and he is now working on commission only. His wife Linda is struggling to make ends meet. The couple still haven’t finished paying off the mortgage.

Linda pressures him to talk to his boss to put him back on salary and ask him if he could be given a job in New York, that he was getting too old to travel  around.

Willy’s meeting with his boss doesn’t go well. His mind starts coming apart. The play ends in tragedy.

Miller’s play has so many scenes that draw one in to the drama, that add to the heat of the play.

There is one scene that will stay etched in my mind.  This was the scene where  Willy’s brain has its final implosion, he covers his head in his hands, and races off the stage to do himself in, something that he has threatened to do from the play’s very commencement. Koman is spot on in this scene.

Paige Rattray’s production is poignant and well considered. She makes good use of the width and breadth of the large Roslyn Packer stage.

Rattray wins uniformly good performances from her cast

Jacek Koman gives a powerful performance  as Willy Loman, one of the theatre’s great dramatic roles.

The always wonderful Helen Thomson is great as Willy Loman’s long suffering wife Linda. Linda is always just managing to make  ends meet.  Though she knows Willy is a troubled soul, she loves him dearly.

Josh McConville plays their older son Biff. Biff is an angst ridden  soul. He wants to live up to his father’s expectations of him but is finding it too hard. He would rather be a farmhand than the businessman his father wants him to be. In many ways Biff was the apple of his father’s eye from when he was a sports star in his school days.

Callan Colley plays Harold ‘Happy’ Loman is Willy’s younger son. He is a more positive person than Biff, and he tries to be a bit of a peacemaker in the turbulent Loman family.

Bruce Spence gives such a good, outstanding  performance as Willy’s kind, caring neighbour  Charley. Willy won’t let him help him, offering him a job that he just won’t accept.

Thuso Lekware’s gives an impactful performance as Charley’s son, Bernard. Something of a nerdy teenager he has grown up and established a professional career as a lawyer. Willy is envious of Charley and Bernard, and Bernard’s success  compared to his son Biff’s limbo existence.

A veteran thespian  Philip Quast gives another assured performance as Willy’s late older brother, Ben. Ben, a business tycoon, constantly appears in Willy’s mind in whole scenes. It is yet another indication of how Willy sees his life as a failure.

Brigid Zengeni gives a striking performance in a role simply called The Woman. Zengeni is convincing as a woman who Willy has an affair with on a business trip to Boston.

Alan Zhu doubles up as Willy’s heartless boss Howard and a waiter Stanley who serves the Loman’s in the very telling restaurant scene.

Kimie Tsukakoshi also successfully fully doubles up as Charley’s secretary Jenny and Miss Forsythe’s friend Letta.

Contessa Treffone comically hams it up’ as the sultry, flirtatious Miss Forsythe who Happy picks up at the restaurant.

David Fleischer’s set is stark and has a kind of lost, unfamiliar, warehouse feel to it. The performance space has a fridge, a table and chair, a kind of worn out picture frame which frames the actors, a gas heater, some broken windows on the wall and leaves strewn on the floor.

Teresa Negroponte’s costumes are a treat. Willy has the classic travelling salesman look with  the  well worn trench coat, simple lines and concealed buttons and a fedora hat. Linda Loman wears 1920’s inspired pants with a wide leg and has the look of a proud middle aged woman. Vintage costumes  adorn many of the characters.

Paul Jackson’s lighting design was highly effective. Quite brilliant. Very raw.

As was Clemence Williams‘ wholly edgy, trumpet based soundscape.

Tim Dashwood’s work was good as the production’s Fight Director, a not small role with this being such an intense play.

Leith McPherson’s voice and text coach ensured that the diction was the same for all of the cast.

The Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Arthur Miller’s classic DEATH OF A SALESMAN  is playing the Roslyn Packer Theatre until 22nd December 2021. Go see!


















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