Set play: Death of a Salesman

21st September 2001 at 01:00

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman , first performed in 1949, is a modern tragedy that deals with the illusions and disillusions of the American Dream.

The play shows the final 24 hours in the life of Willy Loman, a 60-year-old Brooklyn salesman who is too old to travel and who faces the sack. Using his memories and showing his conflicts with his wife, Linda, and sons, Biff and Happy, Miller creates an image of insecurity and self-deception.

In the end, Willy commits suicide so his life insurance will provide for his family's needs. Director of this Compass Theatre production Neil Sissons says: " Death of a Salesman redefines our ideas of tragedy. It has all the ingredients: dream and everyday life as well as a mythic quality. It's much more than a naturalistic narrative. Willy is a tragic figure, and Miller's language poeticises his life. He shows us a man in a contemporary situation who aspires to a great role, which he fails to achieve."

The play paints a picture of late-1940s America, but it also alludes to "other worlds: the frontier spirit of Willy's father and his extraordinary Uncle Ben", says Sissons. It's a huge play, in terms of ambition and profundity as well as length, but Sissons - "in awe of the writing"- has not cut the text, and his set design follows Miller's instructions as to the portrayal of the Loman home.

Death of a Salesman is pacy, the director says, with plenty of subtextual material. What fascinates him about the play is "the way it tackles the political through the personal". So Miller's critique of the American Dream "retains its relevance today".

Touring from September 29 to December 8. For information, tel: 0114 275 5328

  • Picture: Neil Sissons
    • A longer version of this review appears in this week's Friday magazine

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