Review – Death of a Salesman, Young Vic

Monday 3 June 2019

In which we get to see Meghan Markle’s father’s Willy.

Before we get into trouble we should elucidate. This is Arthur Millers’ 1949 Death of a Salesman with Wendell Pierce giving us his Willy Loman. It was he who played Robert Zane, father of the character played by the then Ms Markle in Suits. Has anyone actually seen Suits? Does anyone know anyone who has actually seen it?*

This is the sold out, much raved about production directed by Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell who together gave us the much raved about Company and Angels in America. So it is very much a BIG DEAL.

And there is very little to complain about regarding the production. The acting is all first rate. Mr Pierce is remarkably fine and more than ably supported by she-who-can-do-no-wrong, Sharon D Clarke ever-so-slightly underused as Willy’s stocking-mending wife Linda. The Loman family is completed by Arinzé Kene and Martins Imhangbe as the Lomans’ sons Biff and Happy; Phil spent much of the lengthy play wondering if the other five dwarfs might appear.

Willy is a 63 year-old New York travelling salesman with the emphasis not falling too heavily on the sales. He’s desperately hanging on to his dreams and his job. His solidly reliable wife frets that he may be toying with something rather more awful than just jacking in the travelling. The best scene in the play, where he asks his much younger boss to give up the road, is as excruciating as it is compelling. Pierce’s Loman appears to be in a permanent state of exhaustion from the off which can’t be too much of a stretch knowing the 3 hours of misery ahead of him. We should also draw attention to the chip on Willy’s shoulder which is so massive it would challenge the largest deep-fat fryer.

Phil had only seen DoaS once before (Brian Dennehy and Clare Higgins) and had of course forgotten that it doesn’t come with a huge amount of what we’d call plot unlike Miller’s All My Sons, playing across the road. Though it is sometimes played out with such ferocity they can probably hear them during their more under-projected moments at the Older Vic. It tends to ramble on and on, sometimes repetitively, flashing back to the past as we take a trip inside Willy’s head, here sometimes stylised in posed freeze-framed moments.

Knowing where and when we are is significantly aided by Anna Fleischle‘s drab but clever invisible house set. Furniture, windows and door frames hang in space, rising and dropping and reassembling to form a two-storey building.

Maggie Service puts in a lovely cameo as the Woman (AKA Willy’s bit on the side) which is the only time when the African-American casting seems to add any real significance. An inter-racial relationship in the Forties? When Phil’s mind occasionally drifted he began to cast Ian Bonar (right) – who plays one of the Loman’s neighbours – as Rory Stewart or possibly even as Michael Gove. Mind you the time will come when there will be so many standing for the Tory leadership we will all resemble at least one of them.

Yes, it is very well done but we were slightly underwhelmed by the play that may have been radical in it’s day but doesn’t make itself easy to love. It’s not exactly nippy and could be improved by a few gags. Here it’s enhanced by a 5 star production.

We didn’t need to stand to applaud at the end as the people in front of us had departed at the interval. A few others did too. We can report that Clare Short (2 seats along from Phil) ovated with enthusiasm.

*Here’s a scene of them together in Suits. Probably how she reacted when she realised she didn’t need to give up acting after all.

Update. We’ve been informed that we DO know someone who has seen Suits. And even more shocking (that we’d forgotten), she also informed us we also know someone who worked on Suits. Her husband.





One Response to “Review – Death of a Salesman, Young Vic”

  1. Thomas Boyd Says:

    “… may have been radical in it’s day.” Oh dear.

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