Plays and stories based around the American Dream enthrall me. I find that they have a certain charm about them which everyone can relate to. In one way or another, we are all dreamers and we all want something that we perhaps can’t have. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a particular favourite of mine.
Exeter Northcott Theatre has brought the American Dream to the stage by hosting Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, a Royal & Derngate, Northampton Production. Of course, I’ve heard of this play before as it is regarded as a great classic but I’ve never read it and don’t know anything about the story so I was keen to go and see what this production had to offer.
Set in 1940’s Brooklyn, the play tells the story of Willy Loman, a salesman who is no longer delivering results and is close to being fired. The American Dream has lost its charm in the eyes of Willy but he is determined to keep it alive, if not for himself, for his sons. Like many families at the time, the Loman’s struggle for money which puts even more pressure on Willy. He is determined for his sons to do well and embark on a highly successfully career which he himself never had. Throughout the play, we see flashbacks which go on in Willy’s head which detail his life including the opportunities he never grasped. He also starts comparing his sons to their childhood friend, Bernard. Having become a successful businessman by working hard, Bernard is truly living the American Dream and Willy cannot help but feel jealous.
The play had a brilliant cast. Nicholas Woodeson portrayed Willy with such passion and drive. He truly made me believe that he was having a mental breakdown and I became fully invested in the despair and the constant struggle that the character was feeling. Tricia Kelly portrayed Willy’s wife Linda who tried to stay strong despite her husband’s temperamental mood. She was definitely my favourite character as she had so much love for her family and tried to keep a smile on her face despite the fact that they were in debt up to their eyeballs. Her sons were barely around so she had to try and deal with her husband’s erratic behaviour by herself – the makings of a very strong woman! Hats off to Kelly who gave the audience raw emotion, particularly in the very last scene.
The two sons, Biff and Happy were portrayed by George Taylor and Ben Deery. Their humour and cheekiness came across throughout the play but neither of the characters seemed to care much for their Father and struggled to take his breakdown seriously. Taylor truly shined as Biff in one of the last scenes where he finally stands up to Willy, telling him that he does not desire to climb to the top of the career ladder. The performance was emotional and very well executed.
The set was simple yet cleverly put together. The refrigerator was a constant prop, referring to the luxury that the Loman’s were struggling to afford. The grey panelled walls and drab looking furniture echoed how the family were definitely within the working class of society. ‘Land of the Free’ adorned the top of the set in neon lighting throughout the play which slowly started to disintegrate near the end, symbolising how Willy will never be released from the confinements of debt and his own misery.
Bravo to the whole cast and to the team at Exeter Northcott Theatre who put on a great show. It is a story that I will never forget and one that you should definitely go and see. The play is at Exeter Northcott Theatre until Saturday 3rd June but will then continue showing at the following:
- Royal & Derngate, Northampton – 13th to 17th June
- King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – 20th to 24th June
- Hall for Cornwall, Truro – 27th June to 1st July
- Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford – 4th to 8th July
- Oxford Playhouse – 11th to 15th July