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DEATH OF A SALESMAN @ THEATRE ROYAL SYDNEY : VISCERAL AND COMPELLING

Ben O’Toole, Anthony LaPaglia and Josh Helman in DEATH OF A SALESMAN. Pic Brett Boardman
Alison Whyte and Anthony LaPaglia in Death Of A Salesman. Pic Brett Boardman
Alison Whyte and Anthony LaPaglia in Death Of A Salesman. Pic Brett Boardman

 

This revival of DEATH OF A SALESMAN is a  visceral and compelling experience from the very start when its protagonist Willy Loman comes on stage to enter the family home dispirited after his latest business trip has been cancelled.

Arthur Miller has described his play as being akin to a Greek tragedy,  the only difference being that his protagonist is not a King or a person of similar high status but rather an ordinary man, a salesman, a family man.

The audience watches as Willy Loman’s life spirals downwards and how the people around him respond to his growing distress. 

Anthony  LaPaglia gives a wholly convincing performance as the angst ridden Willy Loman. Willy has always felt that he is a winner. When he loses his job he can’t cope, when he sees that his two sons don’t look like they aren’t going to go in to business and make an impact with their lives he is devastated, and his fragile psyche is shattered with his past and present become inextricably intertwined. Alison Whyte as Linda gives the performance of the night. It is a stunning portrayal of a very authentic character. She is a devoted, subservient wife to Willy, perhaps typical of a woman of that time and backs him one hundred percent even though she sees his unmanly decline. Her two sons rail against their father however Linda won’t hear of it. She isn’t going to desert a sinking ship.

Linda is the one truly heroic character in the play. Her description of her husband is heartbreaking, “He’s only a lonely little boat looking for a harbour.”

Josh Helman as Biff and Ben O’Toole as Happy give riveting, heart breaking performances as his two sons. After such a promising early life as a football star with the expectation that he would get a university scholarship.  

Helman’s Biff can’t  see his life as amounting to much;  He sees himself as being no-one special, that he is ‘a dime a dozen’, just like his father.

O’Tools’s Happy is a drifter and always looks for the easy way to do things. His main attribute is that he is a playboy with women flocking around him which is more important than easing his Dad’s distress.

Anthony Phelan is haunting as his  brother Ben, a very succesful businessman  who makes real and imagined performances through the play. He tells his envious brother, “When I walked in to the jungle, I was seventeen. When I walked out I was twenty-one. And, by God, I was rich”.

Marco Chiappi gives a  poignant portrayal as perhaps the kindest character, Charley, Willy’s next door neighbour, a successful businessman, who offers Willy a job when he sees that he is distressed which Willy won’t accept because of his pride.

Tom Stokes is convincing as Charley’s son Bernard who grew up with Willy’s two sons and was seen as being a bit of a nerd and no hoper but grows up to be a successful lawyer, much to their envy.

Simon Maiden plays Howard, the ‘meanest’ character in the play, firing Willy even though Willy was close friends with his father, and not withstanding that he helped his father choose a name for him when a baby. One of the underlying themes of the play is the  ruthlessness of the business world. Well, nothing’s changed there!

Aisha Aidara, Paula Arundell, Elizabeth Blackmore, Grant Piro, Glenn Hazeldine, Kate Skinner and Damien Strouthos complete the cast, each giving fine performances.

Armfield’s staging is memorable.His direction is assured and well measured. There is nothing that is is heavy handed or overblown. It’s tight.

Armfield’s design team create and add to the play’s world. Dale Ferguson’s set design is a powerful one.  It features a sports grandstand, significant because Biff’s sporting prowess as a star footballer  led to Willy’s firm belief that Biff would have a great life ahead of him. The characters who aren’t in the scane playing out are perched in the grandstand observing the action akin to being a second audience.

The soundscape by Alan John who Armfield has uses for many  years as his sound designer, is for the most part understated and effective. David Tonion is credited as the system sound designer.

Dale Ferguson and Sophie Woodward’s period costume design takes us back to the year 1949, a very different time.

Niklas Pajanti’s evocative lighting together with Alan John’s soundscape combine to create a symbolic wild storm as Willy’s psyche totally unravels.

The searing focus and intensity of this production left one feeling punch-drunk on leaving the theatre.

A GBW Entertainment and Andrew Henry Presewnts production, Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN is playing the Theatre Royal Sydney until the 23 June 2024.

Featured image : The cast of Death Of A Salesman. Production photography Brett Boardman.

https://www.salesmanaustralia.com.au/

 

 

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