Mark Babych's production hits the heights during many key scenes but there are some clumsy and awkward moments which hopefully will be ironed out. Though the enduring appeal of lost soul Willy Loman, the fallen salesman who used to charm, remains.
The casting here is quite brilliant, in that each performer ratchets up the tension when uttering Miller’s timeless dialogue. David Fleeshman stoops onto the stage as yesterday’s man, Loman. The actor has a real affinity for the writing as proven by his previously successful roles in The Price and All My Sons. Joanna Bacon matches his performances as his subdued but loyal wife. But it is Jamie Lee who gives the most affecting performance as Willy’s eldest son, Biff. The despondent, disappointed look in his eyes, his intense delivery and the way he hardly comes up for air, is quite stunning to see. Nathan Nolan in the less showy role of younger brother, Happy, is extremely good, as is Liam O' Brien as Bernard, the successful onlooker.
In this modern age, call centres and seemingly unachievable targets are part of our everyday lives. Younger audiences can therefore engage with Loman’s plight beyond the English syllabus.
As good as the cast is at conveying the main themes, some elements jar slightly. Ivan Stott’s music is quite imposing at times, giving the play a televisual feel which it does not need. Also, Babych chooses to literally spell out Loman’s confused state through the use of sound effects.
But ultimately, this production stridently overcomes these shortcomings because the power and the heartache remain intact. One pivotal scene featuring Biff, breaking down, finally accepting that he needs his washed-out father is tremendously moving.
Despite the odd flaw, the Octagon has yet again proved that they can do Miller’s work justice. This great American classic still leaves you stirred and broken, almost sixty years on.
- Glenn Meads