THEATRE REVIEW: Death Of A Salesman starring Sharon D. Clarke & Arinze Kene at the Young Vic

WORTH A LOOK?: ****

WHERE? Young Vic RUNTIME: 185 minutes (including a 15-minute interval)

WHEN? 3/5, press night 9/5, runs to 29/6/19 (now extended to 13/7)

We were at the Royal Albert Hall last month for the Olivier Awards and the prize we were most pleased to see received was Sharon D. Clarke’s for Best Actress In A Musical and, as if to prove it, her performance of Lot’s Wife from Caroline, Or Change stole the show.

  • Read on for reasons including how this production emphasises the mental health element of the classic play

Last year co-director Marianne Elliott re-imagined Company winning 4 Olivier Awards and for 2019 she updates Arthur Miller classic Death Of A Salesman emphasising the mental health element of the play.

Elliott was at the Albert Hall for the Oliviers and is in the audience tonight for this 3rd preview. The rapturous standing ovation at its close felt for us to be a little over generous to what felt like a luxuriant delve into the detail and back stories suggested by the original work.

Elsewhere, the jumbled contents of protagonist Willy Loman’s mind are brought vividly to life as we first see him mumbling to himself in his kitchen and then later he is visited by memories of his sons Biff and Happy in more joyous times.

Death Of A Salesman was written by American playwright Arthur Miller in 1949 and won a Pulitzer and 3 Tonys. It is the story of Loman, his family, the end of his career as a salesman and how he became estranged from the son who idolised him and he worshipped.

Fans of D. Clarke – and she won our Best Theatre Actress monsta last year for Caroline, Or Change in 2018 – will be delighted to know that both she and Arinze Kene, our Best Theatre Actor winner for Misty, get to sing here and it feels perfectly in keeping with the production.

We’re in 1949 and casting an African-American family here sits well with the piece. Our minor problem with it is that in 2015 we saw a brilliant production of it by the Royal Shakespeare Company starring Antony Sher and Harriet Walter and this is not quite its match. Centre stage there was Loman’s despair at no longer being able to provide for his family in a capitalist society.

Here it feels as if that cornerstone of Miller’s writing is glossed over instead to emphasise the no less important destruction of depression.

Kene is especially moving not least because we get to witness through his younger eyes exactly why his adoration for his father was crushed. Martins Imhangbe as his ‘philandering bum’ of a brother is effective at making clear how Loman’s poor parenting of both brothers have affected them in different ways.

D. Clarke is the best thing about it as the devoted but long suffering wife and her treatment at the hands of Loman, not least when he cuts her conversation short, is especially galling. We were looking for a little more from Pierce as Loman however because his anguish at losing his job didn’t quite click with us.

Elliott transformed Company with a simple gender switch but shifting the focus from the effects of austerity to mental health here seems very now but renders the emotional punch of the piece slightly less powerful.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy Young Vic. Tickets
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow its author on Twitter @NeilDurham, email neildurham3@gmail.com and check us out on Instagram and Facebook

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