Miller's 1949 drama still speaks powerfully to us today

Don Warrington gives a superb portrayal of Willy.
Don Warrington gives a superb portrayal of Willy.
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Overheard in the foyer, "the title tells you what is going to happen in the end". Well, yes, but Sarah Frankcom's direction of Arthur Miller's iconic play Death of A Salesman is so much more, writes Pippa Munro-Hebden.

This is a multi-layered, thought provoking production.

Often described as revealing the non-existence of the American Dream, it is much more than that.

Miller gives us such insight into the last day in the life of 63-year-old travelling salesman Willy Loman as he realises his failure and reviews his past hopes and successes.

There is something of Willy Loman in all of us.

Don Warrington gives a superb portrayal of Willy. From the moment he enters wearily and drops his sample cases, all through his conflicts with his sons, his neighbours, his boss and others, we can feel his pain.

He lingers on memories of his good days when he was respected by all and buyers welcomed him before he became bitter about his current life.

We learn he has been contemplating suicide for some time.

Mr Warrington succeeds in making us empathise with his character, his faults, he can be a bit of a bully, his desire to see his sons do even better than he has done and his inner turmoil and despair, plus his regrets at lost opportunities.

He is well supported by excellent performances from Maureen Beattie, as his long suffering but loving wife Linda, and by Ashley Zhangazha, as his son Biff, and Buom Tihngang, as his other son Happy. Both are a disappointment to Willy. Happy is a philanderer with a mundane job and Biff has just returned from the West with no job and hidden secrets.

There is a unspecified hostility between Biff and his father which is resolved in the second act.

A team of talented actors play a range of roles in Willy's past and present. Leslie Travers' set is a bare circle with branches of trees hanging down from the roof that seem to represent the spring green of Willy's memories and the brown autumn of his final day.

Scenes move from inside the ring to the perimeter to reflect differing places, such as Biff and Happy's bedroom. The second act is gripping and enthralling and the ending heart-wrenchingly moving. Miller's 1949 drama speaks powerfully to us today. Not to be missed.

Death of a Salesman: Royal Exchange Theatre until November 17th.

The Royal Exchange's Christmas production is The Producers.