On Saturday I watched Death of a Salesman at the Piccadilly Theatre. In this post I
will discuss some of the main features which stood out to me, including new thematic content, staging and of course Wendell Pierce’s performance of Willy Loman.
Issues of race- In this production of Death of a Salesman the Loman family are African American. With this brought a new interpretation of the play that Willy Loman’s struggle to make ends meet is actually a discussion racial inequality, as the casting ensures his successful colleagues and counterparts are all white men. Events such as his old boss’ son, Howard, dismissing his request to no longer travel for work, becomes a statement of the white mans career-climbing capabilities. While this made for an interesting and modern adaptation of a classic, in providing a reason for his failure I couldn’t help but feel that it removed some of Willy Loman’s own tragedy which was present in the original. Arthur Miller’s play is a discussion of the working mans pride, the American dream and it is the inexplicable nature of Willy’s lack of success which makes it so tragic. Some people don’t quite make it. In putting at least some of the blame on the colour of his skin, it removed in part some of Willy Loman’s tragedy that was present in the original. I am not saying this version is without tragedy but rather it presents a new tragedy. It could be argued what was left in its place, being more political, was more moving. The struggle of black working people in America in the mid 20th century. Ultimately whether the protagonist is black or white, the play remains a discussion of the American dream, it is merely showing two sides to the same coin.
Set- The set comprised of a series of suspended hollow wood frames which became the windows and doors throughout as well as core household items including: a set of table and chairs, a refrigerator, the gas stove and a desk with a phone on it. All of the set was attached to strings meaning that windows, door frames and household objects could either be included in a scene, or suspended above it when not required. Raised platforms also provided the ability to represent various floors visible at one time. This set complimented the simplicity of the script, just one man and his family, however it also indicated the fragility of their home as the items were suspended on strings. The varying platforms were used cleverly throughout and allowed action in multiple parts of the house at once, adding to the naturalism. There was no real colour in the set at all, in keeping with the tone and the set’s minimalism made for a very clean production.
Wendell Pierce- Finally, the man everybody came to watch, American actor and star of huge TV drama The Wire. So how did he compare on stage? My view is pretty well. He embodied proud but desperate Willy Loman well but his best moments came in the fits of rage against Biff, where his voice boomed. However, while Wendell Pierce did an incredible job throughout, I felt that the more naturalistic scenes suited his style better which is most likely why he is so memorable in The Wire. I felt that his portrayal of Willy Loman’s periods of insanity lacked the same conviction of his scenes of rage or compassion and consequently was at times outshone by Sharon D Clarke who flawlessly played the role of Linda Loman, his wife. Having said that some of my favourite pieces of action came in the moments between Willy and Charley, a long and turbulent companionship which was comedic, real but also heartbreaking. While I don’t believe this was Wendell Pierce’s best work, it was still a powerful one.
I found the production a memorable and original version of Arthur Miller’s play and would highly recommend.