Lost dream

20th May 2005 at 01:00
Death of a Salesman. By Arthur Miller. Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, limited season. Tel: 0870 890 1107 for tickets. www.deathofasalesmanlondon.com

The pursuit of success is part of the modern condition, but failure has a high price. Aleks Sierz looks at a salesman's last hours

Robert Falls directs this Tony award-winning Broadway version, which has now transferred to the West End. He says: "This was the first play I read when I was about 10 or 11 years old. I have always loved it, and have seen it many, many times. But most of the American productions have followed the original, using the same kind of set, so the play badly needed dusting off."

Although his production is set in 1949, he says: "We've given it a vibrancy and sense of movement that is very contemporary. I was looking for something quite edgy, and violent. We have an original score, and lighting effects, that help put you right inside Willy's head.

"The play has two themes: the failure of society and the failure of the family. What makes it so great is the way Arthur (Miller) connects these strands. Willy personifies the pursuit of success at all costs, and that leads to tragedy for him and for his family. At heart, Arthur always said it was a love story between a father and his sons, and the play remains relevant because of this."

Willy is "a man who loves too much. He was abandoned by his father at a very early age and he wants to give a better life to his sons. But his feeding of his sons a dream, and an unrealistic sense of themselves, means that they can never succeed. He believes that America can accommodate anything they want to do. Yet he's never given them the education or the moral code they need. So both boys are lost. And Willy doesn't know what went wrong."

Falls says that one of his great pleasures "is that so many young people come to this 56-year-old play and are incredibly moved by it. It catches young people up, and it's almost impossible for them not to identify with the characters. It's about families, parents and siblings - and it's abundantly full of life".

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