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.
Final performances today