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Mr Monkey sees Death of a Salesman at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 11th October 2018
End date : 17th November 2018
Visit date : 16th October 2018
Don Warrington as Willy Loman (Production photo by Johan Persson)
Willy Loman (Don Warrington) after failing to drive out of New York. (Production photo by Johan Persson)
Mr Monkey looking at the poster for Death of a Salesman
Mr Monkey looking at the poster for Death of a Salesman.
Don Warrington as Willy Loman, Ashley Zhangazha as Biff. (Production photo by Johan Persson)
Biff (Ashley Zhangazha) coming home after a night out with Happy (Boom Tihngang).

Mr Monkey took the 192 into Manchester, and scurried along to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the press night of Sarah Franckom's new production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

Arthur Miller apparently wrote Death of a Salesman in a specially built cabin in the woods in Roxbury, Connecticut, inspired to some extent by the suicide of a family friend who was a salesman. The play premiered on Broadway in February 1949, and won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.

Willy Loman is a salesman, living in in New York but covering the whole of New England. He is getting old - just about to make the last payment on a 25 year mortgage - and he is burning out. As the play begins he has been reduced to working on commission only, and has cancelled his appointments becuase he can't concentrate on driving. His semi-estranged son Biff, who has spent years working on farms and ranches on the other side of the country, has unexpectedly returned and is staying in the family home. His other son, Happy, is also staying there, though he has an expensive apartment in the city.

Willy has always been very disappointed in Biff's failure to go into business, and the two spend a lot of the play arguing about it. Biff is upset to see his father's mental deterioration and ends up agreeing to try to get backing for a business venture with Happy, more to please Willy than because he actually thinks it could ever happen. The next day Biff fails to see his ex-employer and Willy, while attempting to move to a desk job, manages to get himself sacked. The day goes downhill from then on.

The play only covers a couple of days in the present (well, the late 1940's), but Miller uses a lot of flashbacks, mostly to the time around Biff's failure to graduate to show how everyone got into the state they're in. There are also a number of scenes in which Willy's elder brother, Ben, visits and gives him advice.

The stage is covered in rust-streaked metal. A low wall, with two entrances, runs around the stage. Within this there is a circular platform, slightly raised so that there is a walkway between the wall and the platform. At the start, a table with a bowl of fruit and two chairs stands slightly off centre. All the action takes place on the central circle. The production is played in late 1940's costume, with a nice mix of sharp suits and informal clothes.

Mr Monkey suspected that Death of a Salesman wasn't going to be totally jolly when he found out that its subtitle is Certain private conversations in two acts and a requiem, and he wasn't wrong.

Don Warrington really impressed Mr Monkey as Willy Loman, obsessed with being "well liked" (being merely liked is not good enough) and watching his mind breaking and the way in which he rationalised suicide as a positive way of being a success was heartbreaking. Ashley Zhangazha was excellent as Biff, enraged at his father but trying to please him at the same time. Mr Monkey was taken by his controlled anger.

Maureen Beattie played Linda Loman very well, a woman with a brittle strength trying to make her husband face up to reality and having to call him out on what would be lies if he didn't beleive what was saying. Mr Monkey also found Trevor A Toussaint strangely impressive as Ben, effortlessly being more successful than than his younger. The cast as a whole presented a convincing and fractured American dream turning into a nightmare.

Don Warrington as Willy Loman and Maureen Beattie as Linda Loman. (Production photo by Johan Persson)
Willy Loman (Don Warrington) and Linda Loman (Maureen Beattie) face another crisis together. (Production photo by Johan Persson)

Mr Monkey enjoyed Death of a Salesman and recommends it to anyone with any interest in the sour side effects of the more materialistic version of the American dream.

Death of a Salesman runs until 17th November 2018.

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