At the time of its first production in 1949, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman garnered the description 'expressionist' - as well as the Pulitzer Prize. All the word really means is a sense of heightened emotional impact obtained through exaggeration and distortion rather than through simple naturalism.
Post Beckett, Ionesco and Pinter we can, in 2007, simply accept it as a great play. Great plays do, however, demand great productions and great performances.
Colchester and Ipswich audiences are fortunate in both. Director Sue Lefton and designer Sara Perks give us the material circumstances of the drama, but it is the title character, Willy Loman, who carries the weight of the play. Roger Delves-Broughton does so superbly.
One cannot help becoming involved as he steps out towards death for at least one of the right reasons but in completely the wrong way. It's a performance of searing realism which at the same time emphasises the poetry inherent even in little lives. You want to shake him into sense before it's too late. You want to wrap him in compassion because it's always too late.
And because Loman is no hero. He's a minnow in the commercial traveller's shark pool, wrapping himself in the last tatters of a failed career with the forlorn hope that his sons will do better. Only that's not what they want or indeed are even remotely capable of achieving. Marshall Griffin blisters his awareness of his own futility as Biff and Gus Gallagher is his less-involved, more nonchalant sibling Happy.
Linda Loman is a challenging role, a stay-at-home wife who's worth a wider world. Kate Layden gives us all this, and more - notably in her last scene, a threnody for the American dream as much as for an individual victim. Her alter ego in a way is Ben, the brother who made money - but better not to enquire too closely just how he did it. Nicholas Lumley presents us with the whole conundrum of the man.
Shuna Snow flaunts as the hotel floozy who is the catalyst for Biff's reaction to his father and David Tarkenter plays the employers whose patience Loman inevitably erodes. The soundtrack to these twining lives is of all their worlds, those of the real world and those of the mind. And of the soul. And it is that which Miller's play sets out to touch. And it succeeds.
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester)