Death of a Salesman

Mon 22nd – Sat 27th August 2011

reviews

James Albon

at 15:32 on 24th Aug 2011

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My first thoughts, when faced with Death of a Salesman, was being back in school- I don’t think I’m alone in having first encountered Arthur Miller’s classic text during the Standard Grade English course, thoroughly under-appreciating the play from battered paperbacks in dull, stuffy classrooms.

Don’t let these memories of bored adolescence put you off though, the cast of Close Up Theatre masterfully retell this heartbreaking tale of a Little Man faced with the cruelty of old age and poverty trying to hide from the cracks appearing in his family, his house and the American dream itself. Lead actor Patrick Fleming displays a wealth of experience beyond his twenty-something-years as within ten minutes the young student undergoes an utterly convincing transformation into 63-year-old dime-a-dozen Willy Lowman, holding the audience rapt as he shows the emotional turmoil of the life of a struggling nobody. The rest of the cast, particularly his worrying wife and warring sons, follow up his role admirably, and while some actors stumble on the accents at times, all of them work together to build an engaging portrait of mid-20th century Brooklyn, deftly bringing across dynamics of tone and emotional, keeping the pace running and the atmosphere moving. Although it’s easy to feel daunted by the two-and-a-half-hour running time, if it let you take it in you’ll be transfixed right up until the climatic, tragic ending.

The production isn’t entirely without blemishes though. The design is... well, it’s adequate, but it’s not exactly stellar. The lighting does a good job of conveying atmosphere and changes of scene, but despite the small, intimate venue, the set itself does little to convey neither poverty nor homeliness of the Lowman’s small home, and the costumes seem rushed and lack attention to detail. It’s just a shame that it seems to have had so much work and talent put into the acting and direction, only for it to be let down by design that feels like an afterthought.

Despite this, Close Up have put on an engaging, moving production of a timeless piece of theatre, and while as interpretations goes it doesn’t break the mould, finding a show this good is a rare treat. Don’t miss it.

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Imogen O'Sullivan

at 11:37 on 25th Aug 2011

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Two and a half hours of theatre at half past ten in the morning in a venue that - though lovely - is somewhat out of the way, was a tall order, but one that Close Up Theatre managed with ease. Their show was well-paced and thoroughly entertaining; a powerful and thought-provoking study of the collapse of one man’s mind, his family and the American Dream he lives for.

The set was simple and effective, with four rooms set up in the four corners of the stage allowing for the boys to be placed silent in a bedroom whilst overhearing the scenes taking place between their parents in the kitchen. Swift scene transitions kept up the pace of this wordy play which, in turn, kept the attention of the packed out audience. The flashbacks Patrick Fleming’s Willy loses himself within are brilliantly directed by Lloyd Allington, creating scenes within scenes and layered dialogue that are powerful reminders of his breakdown - particularly effective when he addresses the figure of his brother Ben (Alexander Carden), in his mind’s eye.

Fleming is utterly outstanding throughout, astonishingly convincing as the 63 year old Willy yet subtly nuancing his performance as he reminisces – not drastically altering the impression of age he gives off, but softening it slightly in nostalgic memory. Willy is a weak man, a man that has made a lot of mistakes, but he is ultimately human, and this is the character touch Fleming accentuates. Sympathy for his character pervades the theatre, even at his highest moments of aggression you cannot help feeling sorry for a man trying so desperately to hold his family together and believe in his sons coming good. His desperate explosions of frustrated rage and protective fury are exceptionally powerful as moving testament to how much he worships his son – Alexander Riley’s Biff.

Riley is also strong throughout, showing particular skill is his moments of self-reflection as the piece draws to a close. His relationship with Wesley Lineham’s Happy is sensitively developed, both actors doing a fantastic job of switching between grown men and teenage boys, particularly in Lineham’s hero-worship of his all-American brother and his desperation to impress his father. Serena Jennings puts in an emotionally affecting performance as the long-suffering and protective wife and mother, Linda. Her visible strength in accepting the obvious faults of the man she loves is an honest and moving portrayal.

This piece is a powerful exploration of how social change affects individuals; Willy is caught in outdated principles of friendship in business, refusing to accept the ruthless, financial focus of capitalism embraced by his contemporaries. However, this production is about more than just the evils of capitalist individualism, it finds real power in being a piece about family. It’s about a flawed man trying as hard as he can to be a good father, whilst cripplingly aware of his own failings, the failings of his father, and the undeniable responsibility he bears for the failings of his sons.

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