first night

Death of a Salesman

Ros Bell sees the new talent on display with this year's Fresher's Play 'Death of a Salesman'

Arthur Miller’s classic play ‘Death of a Salesman’ is a tragic look into the world the ordinary man who, despite his desires to succeed and live out the true American dream and for his son to follow in his footsteps, has to face the fact that he was not born for greatness, nor will he ever have greatness thrust upon him. This production nicely captured the essence of the bland and suffocating suburbia which drives the title character to insanity, and included some stellar performances, despite being a little underprepared and maybe a little unfocussed.

As both the director and the lead role (Willy Loman), George Breare had his work cut out and, unfortunately, I don’t feel he managed to capture the essence of either. Both the direction and his acting showed great potential, however the direction lacked a drive behind it, and Breare unfortunately struggled to remember his vast number of lines. I sympathise with him (we’ve all been there with line learning!) however, he continued to beat himself up about it throughout the show and I feel that this detracted from the hard work he’d put in to building his character. The lines would have been forgiven had it not then affected his mind set and altered the way he acted to the end. I feel he perhaps spread himself to thin on this production, leaving the audience with a distinct feeling that the show was underprepared and, therefore, slightly underwhelming.

Generally speaking I could see real potential in most of the actors (aside from a few slipping accents). Special mention should, I feel, go to Adam Simpson who played the role of Biff Loman very well. I would have liked to see a little more variation in the character, but when he took it down a notch, and was quieter but still intense in his emotion there were moments were I really felt moved. Similarly William Hanway (Happy Loman) had lovely moments and was probably the strongest actor. He superbly maintained his character, even when the action was not strictly focussed on him. Finally, I thought Felix Hawlin played Bernard very well. He captured the essence of the nerdy young Bernard, adding flashes of nice comedy, but also managed to play a mature Bernard who I had no difficulty believing was the same character. He aged the character, without losing any of the essence, which was very impressive and enjoyable to watch.

Another criticism is the fact that the cast all spoke very fast, sometims making it difficult to understand what was being said. I’m sure a lot of that was due to first night nerves, however I feel that if more time was taken over delivering the lines and the actors had connected more to what they were saying - rather than just reciting the lines - the audience would be able to engage more in the story. This would also help certain characters to achieve a “status” that they were lacking tonight. The characters of Charley (Nick Vollers) and Howard (Joseph Sherlock) could have done with being bolder in character, they are ‘bosses’ and it would have been nice to see them played with gumption. Similarly Willy (at the beginning) I feel should have more of a presence on stage, which would then contrast nicely with his character at the end who is a broken man. Breare shuffled around a lot, which was a nice mannerism for his character at the end, but at the beginning it just meant that there was no real power behind his character – he was weak from start to finish, which then denies the audience from witnessing that true, heart-breaking meltdown.

The show was played very much on one, slightly melodramatic, level which I feel actually detracted from the emotion, rather than enhancing it. The melodrama stopped the audience from really connecting with the characters, meaning that in the end we cared little for the tragedy that befalls them. I feel this could have been easily rectified with a stronger and, perhaps, more objective direction behind it.

The lighting was designed well (TD/LD – Caleb Bond), working with the set to elegantly re-enforce in the audiences mind the different rooms of the house. However, unfortunately, at the end of the first act this technique was suddenly lost, leaving two characters talking face to face to each other from the bedroom and the kitchen, which we’d previously been led to believe were on different floors. It’s a small detail but more focussed direction could have easily helped to keep up the ‘reality’ that the audience is engaging in. The sound recordings were used cleverly to help convey action that couldn’t occur onstage, however the clips were played suddenly and very loudly, which made them quite jarring to listen to. I’m sure this was more of a first night issue though, and ultimately the sound recordings were nice additions to the show and so praise must be given to Edward Clark (SD) and Tanya Agarwal (SO).

Overall the show was a nice interpretation of a classic play. While a little underprepared and a little destabilised by nerves, it was still enjoyable to watch and is a good launch pad for a fresh and exciting batch of talent into DST.


21 November 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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