Review: Death of a Salesman, Young Vic

A brilliant cast shine in this striking revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic

“Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person”

The American dream hasn’t often looked like this. Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s re-imagining of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman reaffirms the Young Vic as the place to go to shake up these American classics (qv A View from the Bridge) with a startling revival that seems destined to go far.

Elliott has recent form of course in reinterpretations and Cromwell was the Associate Director on Company too. And if Death… might not go quite as far, it still emerges as a thoughtful reconsideration with a decidedly psychological bent, trapping us as much as Willy in his troubled mind.

Wendell Pierce (of The Wire, which I’ve still to watch) is pitch-perfect as Willy Loman, the travelling salesman burnt out by a life on the road chasing a satisfaction that never came. And by making the Lomans an African-American family, their tragedy is sharpened as we see the impact of 1940s societal racism in miniature. 

And Sharon D Clarke as his wife Linda, and Arinzé Kene and Martins Imhangbe as their songs Biff and Happy all track the weight path of their own disappointments, as well as despairing of what is happening to their paterfamilias. Anna Fleischle’s sparse and smart design heightens the dreamlike, or nightmarish, quality of Willy’s retreats into his mind, aided by stunning lighting work from Aideen Malone.

There’s great work across the ensemble though – Joseph Mydell’s cream-smooth Uncle Ben and Matthew Seadon-Young’s flinching Howard. And with singers like Clarke, Kene and Jennifer Saayeng in the company, Femi Temowo’s music wisely brings additional emotional texture, generating a palpable sense of community which is only all the more acutely felt once it is shattered.

Running time: 3 hours (with interval)
Photos: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
Death of a Salesman is booking at the Young Vic until 13th July

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