The bril­liant yet tragic story of Willy Lo­man


IN truth, I had never seen or read any­thing by Arthur Miller be­fore, but af­ter watch­ing The Death Of A Sales­man – the spec­tac­u­lar Royal Ex­change The­atre pro­duc­tion fol­low­ing the bril­liant yet tragic story of Willy Lo­man di­rected by Sarah Frankcom, with Don War­ring­ton – I can see what I’ve been miss­ing.

The play be­gins with the main pro­tag­o­nist, Willy Lo­man, re­turn­ing from a busi­ness trip to find his two sons, Biff and Happy stay­ing at his home.

Biff has un­ex­pect­edly re­turned from the West and it is clear from the start that Biff and Willy have a strained re­la­tion­ship; there is love there, deep down, but also bit­ter­ness and re­sent­ment.

Willy has been work­ing as a sales­man on the road for 36 years, striv­ing for suc­cess and achiev­ing the ‘Amer­i­can Dream’, but has be­come blind to re­al­ity.

He has be­come ob­so­lete in this new world which he can’t keep up with and that has no need for him any more – strug­gling to ac­cept this, he hides be­hind il­lu­sions, pre­tend­ing he is thriv­ing in busi­ness to save his rep­u­ta­tion.

Themes of re­al­ity and il­lu­sion, lies and abuse, suc­cess and fail­ure and hope and cyn­i­cism all weave their way through­out the plot, dis­play­ing how we must ac­cept change in or­der to sur­vive – ex­actly what Willy re­fuses to do.

What el­e­vated the play even more, be­sides from the in­cred­i­bly in­sight­ful plot, was the use of sound ef­fects and light­ing in and in be­tween the scenes and the seam­less changes be­tween past and present to high­light Willy’s emo­tions and men­tal de­cline.

Don War­ring­ton’s por­trayal of Willy is ex­cep­tional; he per­fectly cap- tures the essence of Willy and de­picts all his dif­fer­ent lay­ers; from be­ing lost and alone, to an­gry and bit­ter, to stub­born but hard-work­ing.

In the end, it is dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine whether Willy is a good or bad man, or whether to feel sorry for him or be an­gry with his stub­born­ness.

One thing is for sure though, I found this play to be re­mark­ably thought­pro­vok­ing and per­cep­tive.

I now see why Win­ner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play, Death Of A Sales­man is con­sid­ered one of the great­est plays of the 20th Cen­tury.

Don War­ring­ton as Willy Lo­man in The Death Of A Sales­man

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