Review: Death of a Salesman, Dundee Rep

THEATRE

 

Death Of A Salesman,

Dundee Rep,

Until March 11

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Dundee Rep, Dundee, Britain - 21 Feb 2017
Billy Mack as Willy Loman. Photo: Jane Hobson

The plays of the late, great Arthur Miller seem to have found a new currency in the days of President Trump. Few, if any, of his great, socialistic tragedies seem more pertinent today than his 1949 drama Death Of A Salesman, the story of Willy Loman, the titular merchant who embraced the American Dream with a fervour that US capitalism never reciprocated.

Director Joe Douglas’s production for the Dundee Rep Ensemble goes directly for the agonising gulf between myth and sobering reality. We experience the increasingly delusional salesman’s memories through a dream-like, Technicolor haze.

Ground down by his failures and by his sons’ lack of success, Loman retreats into an idyllic family past and the glories of his venture capitalist brother Ben (played with tremendous cinematic shine by Barrie Hunter). Ewan Donald and Laurie Scott (Loman’s sons Biff and Happy), reflect brilliantly both the gilded illusions and the crumbling actualities of the merchant’s life. Irene MacDougall is almost too painful to watch as the salesman’s despairing wife, Linda.

Designer Neil Warmington’s set (a neo-Brechtian construction of domestic naturalism on metatheatrical metal platforms) plays to the dreamlike state beautifully. However, frustratingly, its muddy gravel and steaming trashcans are gratuitous.

Composer Nikola Kodjabashia’s score (premonitory sounds and music played live on stage, mainly on a naked piano) is typically effective.

The success or failure of any production of Death Of A Salesman rests, first-and-foremost, on the casting of Loman himself. Douglas is blessed, in Ensemble member Billy Mack, with an unforgettable merchant.

In his character’s moments of energetic desperation, the actor generates enough pathos to fill five auditoriums. In his heartbreaking mental and emotional decline, Mack seems to diminish physically, almost to the point of vanishing before our eyes. It is a truly exceptional lead performance in a very strong production.

An abridged version of this review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on March 5, 2017

© Mark Brown

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