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Theatre Review Resonant dramatic autopsy on the death of the American Dream

Death of a Salesmen
Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

MILLIONS of US citizens believe that the their constitution enshrines the right of “every citizen to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination and individual initiative.”

But the reality of the American Dream is very different. Achieving it is exclusively for the 1 per cent.

Willy Loman, the poor schmuck at the centre of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, is determined, works hard and instils in his sons the importance of achieving success. Yet, after 36 years criss-crossing New England trying to sell whatever wares his bosses want sold, his reward is to be reduced to earning his corn through commission only.

But he remains a true believer in the dream. Now, at 63 years of age, anxiety at his failure is beginning to eat into his tired brain.

Award-winning director Sarah Frankcom uses the freedom of the Royal Exchange’s theatre-in-the round to great effect, as the arena reflecting the past versus present battle raging in Willy’s head. Don Warrington, a perfect Loman, is becoming more crippled by the years of striving to get rich and failing and the growing despair mounts as his efforts to drive his sons to succeed merely pushes them away.

Both are unable to live up to their father’s expectations and there are excellent characterisations from Ashley Zhangazha as the elder son Biff and Buom Tihngang as the younger Happy,

But the real heart of the play is Linda Loman, Willy’s long-suffering wife. She’s the engine that sustains the family, a strong woman who must not only be a wife and mother but also act as mediator between her warring husband and sons. Maureen Beattie is outstanding in the role, continually bending, flexing, weaving and dodging as she tries desperately to keep the peace and her family together.

Seventy years on from its first staging, as the sharks in the White House cynically peddle the American Dream to keep control and wealth in the hands of the rich and powerful few, the play has as much resonance today.

Runs until November 17, box office: royalexchange.co.uk

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