Review: BTC’s ‘Death of a Salesman’

A sincere and moving production which captured the complexities of Arthur Miller’s American classic. The play tells the story of an old salesman, Willy Loman, whose family relationships and livelihood are falling apart, as well as his dreams of greatness both for his family and for his country.

I would say that I am over-familiar with this particular play. I have seen it multiple times, as well as having studied it as part of my first-year course. While I appreciate its value, I have never much enjoyed it as a play, but the Bailey Theatre Company managed to breathe new life into it, with acting that is truly emotionally convincing, and a real understanding of the power of the unadulterated source material. Indeed, they hardly changed the play at all, opting for a straight portrayal in almost every case. For those familiar with this play, this might have been a little boring if not for the compellingly strong acting.

Charlie Howe and Ellie Fidler in the roles of Willy and Linda Loman were especially notable for their performances in emotionally demanding roles. Charlie Howe managing to portray Willy’s constantly changing emotions and mental decline convincingly, and the couple were believable elderly parents despite their appearance, because of their careful use of mannerisms. Their performances were rarely awkward or wooden, and they made the characters vivid and did justice to their psychological complexity.

In this unimaginably bleak play, they managed to score some laughs from the audience, through emphasising the comedy in the parts of Happy and Bernard, played by Dan Carr and Ed Cook respectively. Rather than undermining the seriousness of the play, as is always a danger, instead the comedy encouraged a connection and engagement with some of the more peripheral characters which helped to emphasise the deep tragedy of the ending. Samad Chowdhury and Dan Carr (Biff and Happy), even managed to pull off the scenes in which they have to act like young boys, scenes which are often embarrassing or even accidentally comical when attempted by adult professional actors.

The lighting was also particularly effective, with the change of light colour reflecting the mood of the scene, and the blue light especially emphasising Willy Loman’s dream-like visions of the past. I was, however, a little unsure about their portrayal of Ben, Willy Loman’s entrepreneurial brother. The heavily emphasised the performative aspect of the part, as he merely symbolises Willy’s past regrets of missed opportunity, but it came off as a little wooden. They also tried something different by choosing Isabella Cowell to play Charley.  Although I sympathise with the lack of female roles in this play, and fully support disregarding the gender of roles during casting, I’m not sure how well she carried the role and as a consequence the character of Charley was somewhat lost amidst some of the more dynamic portrayals.

I also had a few qualms with the venue. I had never been in the Old Library at John’s before, and it was an interesting space, but I was not sure how effective it was as a theatre. On one half of the room there are pillars which obscure the view of the stage, and while this was partly my fault for my seat choice, nevertheless it took constant manoeuvring to be able to see all of the action. The lack of a raised stage did not help this either, however being on the same level as the audience did work well to make the production more natural and personal.

I walked home feeling truly emotionally drained, which lives up to my expectation of the effect Miller should have. A thoroughly haunting play, which was done justice with some wonderful acting and an earnest and well-thought out production.

Tickets are still available for tonight’s performance at 7:30pm, as well as tomorrow at 7:00pm, and I would definitely recommend seeing it!

By Isabel Carmichael-Davis

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