Theatre Review: Death Of A Salesman At Piccadilly Theatre
Like the Lyric’s recent A Doll’s House set in colonial India, this African-American version of Death of a Salesman is another triumph of re-imagination. It takes its saga of a family buckling under the pressure of earning a dollar, its sadness and anger, to another level. By the end of the play, the cast achieve a kind of hymnal quality that brings the audience to tears.
The clue to its success is in those little touches which Arthur Miller excels at and which, with and added racial dimension, adds to our identification with Willy and Biff. Biff’s brief reference to incarceration, lines about Willy’s need to be liked, to being constantly overlooked, overworked and expendable, all amplify Miller’s profound and simple insights into our fragile condition. Sometimes, it’s almost too much to bear.
It’s contemporary as well. Perhaps by accident or design but in its re-imagination of a black man, exhausted by work (occupational stress anyone?) and driven by the need to be liked — either by Biff or by clients at work — it all feels modern. That's the genius of Miller, again reminding us that our current social media-driven need to be liked follows an age-old demand on all of us to conform and be capitalism’s willing victims.
The whole cast is excellent. Wendell Pierce has said that his drama school training in projection was leading up to this moment, and he took it. It's not just his voice, but the flutters of anxiety, the stumbles of heart-breaking awkwardness and his rigidity as his mind wanders through his past, his mistakes and, most movingly of all, to his love for his boys, and for Biff (Sope Dirisu, excellent). In showing a hero-worship he cannot let go of, and with no guarantee of feelings returned, Death of a Salesman reaches a sublime ending. A play with great heart that demands to be seen.
Death of A Salesman, Piccadilly Theatre, 16 Denman Street, Soho, W1D 7DY. Tickets £15-£126.75, until 4 January 2020.
As you may have heard, damage to the theatre building occurred during a performance on 6 November. As a result the performance on 7 November is cancelled. Keep an eye on the Ambassador Theatre Group for updates on future performances.
Last Updated 07 November 2019