Piccadilly Theatre – until 4 January 2020
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
This achingly beautiful production of Arthur Miller’s timeless classic delivers three hours of theatrical bliss.
After chasing the American Dream all his life, Willy Loman’s career and mind are crumbling, but his loving and fiercely loyal wife Linda tries to keep him anchored and calm. Having the Lomans as an African American family adds many undercurrents to the story, most noticeably when Willy and his sons are shown to a table in the back of the restaurant “for privacy” and making Willy’s scene with his young boss Howard even more excruciating.
Wendell Pierce is devastating as Willy – in turns pitiful, bullying, puppyish and discomforting. Willy’s stubborn clinging to the notion that a man’s success is measured by his wealth and popularity, while realising that he has neither, is shown effortlessly in every expression and every movement Pierce makes. Sharon D. Clarke is passionate and heart-breaking as Linda, and the two actors’ onstage chemistry is mesmerising. Sope Dirisu captures Biff’s self-loathing and disappointment brilliantly in stark contrast to the cocky hero-worshipping football star in Willy’s memories and Natey Jones is very funny as wannabe playboy Happy.
Femi Temowo’s jazz and blues infused music imbues the play with a languid but relentless drive towards tragedy, and directors Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell deft touches give the story a beautiful rhythm. Anna Fleischle’s inspired design illustrates Willy’s torment, with windows, doors and furniture hanging over his head in the house that he still doesn’t own. Willy’s hallucinations of happy memories are all brightly lit and coloured while his present reality is drab and grey, and the sound and lighting, capturing instants like an old snapshot or recording create a sensory overload that can sometimes make the audience wince as much as Willy.
This magnificent production is unmissable, and Pierce and Clarke’s sublime performances are simply the best you’ll see in the West End.