Theatre: Death of a Salesman

The phrase 'Land Of The Free' is spelled out in crackling neon above the stage
The phrase 'Land Of The Free' is spelled out in crackling neon above the stage
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ARTHUR Miller’s great 1949 tragedy, Death Of A Salesman, was born out of an America that had just undergone 20 years of national trauma, as first a devastating economic depression, then a mighty world war, left its mark on the land of opportunity.

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh ****

And if Joe Douglas’s recent award-winning production in Dundee used every resource of ensemble theatre to make us feel that historical context, Abigail Graham’s new touring version, from the Royal & Derngate in Northampton, attempts something quite different, setting the story of Miller’s 1940s hero, Willy Loman, in a grey metal corporate space that seems to belong to our own 21st century, with the phrase “Land Of The Free” spelled out in crackling neon above the stage, like a gradually deteriorating contemporary art installation.

In this bleak and unfamiliar new world, Nicholas Woodeson steps into the role of Willy – following the sad death of Tim Pigott-Smith – with all the bewilderment and terrible, poignant rage of a small man who believed he was doing right, but finds himself overtaken by people like his upwardly-mobile neighbour Charlie and his son Bernard – played here by black actors Geff Francis and Michael Walters – who better understand that American Dream and American reality are not quite the same things.

The echoes of recent Trump-Obama political tensions are clear; and with George Taylor, Ben Deery and Tricia Kelly giving an unusually contemporary look to Willy’s sons and ever-loving wife Linda, this emerges as a long, thoughtful and resonant Death Of A Salesman – one that offers no resolution, but lets us see every layer of this great drama in a penetrating new light.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Final performances today