Death Of A Salesman (Royal & Derngate, Northampton & National Tour)

 

**UPDATE** Tim Pigott-Smith (our original Willy Loman) tragically passed away unexpectedly on 7 April 2017, whilst in rehearsals for the above production. I have included a short obituary in the 'News' section of this site, as well as a link to the official statement from the theatre. Nicholas Woodeson has stepped in to take on the role of Willy. My thoughts are with Tim's family at this incredibly sad and difficult time.

Widely considered to be one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century, Death Of A Salesman is about the cost of not being able to let go of the American Dream. Directed by Abigail Graham, this is a major touring revival of Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize‑winning masterpiece.

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★★★★  The Times, Dominic Cavendish, 'Nicholas Woodeson portrays Willy Loman with such vulnerability, desolation and desperation to please that it’s almost unbearably poignant':

‘The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell,” Willy Loman’s neighbour, Charley, tells him. Nicholas Woodeson’s Willy, scraping together from his scrambled wits the high price he must pay for that brutal piece of capitalist wisdom, is a sight to break the hardest of hearts. Abigail Graham’s touring production of the 1949 Arthur Miller drama was to have opened in Northampton last month, starring Tim Pigott-Smith. After the actor’s death, Woodeson stepped into the role — and he brings to it such vulnerability, desolation and desperation to please that it’s almost unbearably poignant.

This is a profoundly compassionate, surprisingly delicate portrayal of a character whose stock in trade is bluster, bonhomie and delusion. And Graham’s staging, despite some forgivable rough edges, has the quiet devastation of commonplace tragedy — the shoulder-shrugging squandering of potential, the spirit-sapping compromise.

This is a house, as Miller frequently reminds us, in which the menfolk have never grown up, and Graham emphasises its warped family dynamic. The diminutive Woodeson gazes pleadingly into the faces of George Taylor’s anguished Biff and Ben Deery’s resigned, discreetly bitter Happy, both of whom tower over him. As a younger man, he gloats and grandstands, his grin already forced, a little too bright; that smile becomes a tyranny, a mask of professional likeability that he’s too terrified to remove. Even in the midst of sordid motel-room adultery, when Woodeson’s Willy bleakly confesses “I’m so lonely”, the words come with a sad, habitual chuckle. Tricia Kelly’s Linda, meanwhile, has the hollow exhaustion of a woman permanently running on empty; steely, brittle, with a cold, clear anger.

Strong support comes particularly from Geff Francis as good-hearted, pragmatic Charley, whose easygoing relationship with Michael Walters, as his successful son Bernard, is a painful contrast to Willy’s with his boys. [This production] has a vigour and freshness that reaffirm Miller’s work both as a classic and as a piercing play for today.'

★★★★  The Stage, Mark Shenton, ''monumental performances’':

'The show is galvanised by two monumental performances from Woodeson as a gruff, combustible Loman and Kelly as his pained wife. Woodeson is a physically a very different kind of actor to Pigott-Smith – short and stocky versus lean and patrician – but he has a coiled and crumpled intensity that is heartbreaking. Kelly's anguish and loyalty is palpable.

As their sons Biff and Happy, George Taylor and Ben Deery are also superb, coming to terms with their own failures and that of their father. A supporting cast, that includes Geff Francis as neighbour Charley and Michael Walters as Charley's high-achieving lawyer son Bernard, gives the play heft and texture.'

whatsonstage.com, Michael Davies:

'Stepping into the role of Willy Loman, Arthur Miller's complex and tragic creation, was never going to be an easy task. Nicholas Woodeson, a safe pairs of hands as well as an actor of great sensitivity and subtlety, takes on the job with humility and considerable class.

If there's an undercurrent of trepidation about his performance, one can only imagine that it's partly due to the shadow of sadness across the whole production. But Woodeson intelligently mines this seam to give Willy a tangible sense of vacillation, lurching from insane pride in his sons Biff and Happy to outbursts of rage at their failure to live up to his aspirations.

Ultimately, of course, the failure is Willy's – the gradual collapse of his optimism and belief in the illusory American Dream is the story of Miller's play – and Woodeson makes it painfully believable. At his side is a quietly supportive wife Linda, played with simple sincerity by Tricia Kelly, another late replacement for Pigott-Smith's wife Pamela Miles.

Much of Willy's disintegration in Miller's script depends on his relationship with the boys. Here, fortunately, Biff and Happy are terrific. Ben Deery's Happy – probably the trickier of the two roles – emerges as a would-be replica of his father, willing to deceive himself as much as the rest of the world about how well he's doing and how bright his future is. George Taylor as Biff brings a youthful turmoil to the conflicted boy, desperate to retain faith in a parent who is transparently not the man he thought he was. The interplay between the two of them and Willy is crucial to the dynamic of the production.

There's a supporting cast of strong players, from Thom Tuck's weaselly boss Howard to Geff Francis's touching performance as next-door neighbor Charley.'

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