Death Of A Salesman – Peach Theatre Company

This week one of theatre’s most famous and acclaimed plays by Arthur Miller opened at Auckland’s Maidment Theatre.

This production of the classic Death of a Salesman is brought to us by the Peach Theatre Company. Headed up by Jesse Peach, who has  directed and produced 10 shows including; The History Boys, Othello, A view From The Bridge and the 2011 sell out production of The Wizard Of Oz at the Civic Theatre, there was no doubt that we were definitely in safe hands.

The play tells the story of 60 year old salesman Willy Loman. Life hasn’t quite turned out as Willy had hoped and neither have his two sons Happy and Biff. His wife Linda and his sons are concerned about Willy’s health due to his recent car crash and persistent talking to himself.

Financially Linda and Willy are getting by, just, but as Willy says ‘I’d love to own something before it breaks’ as the payments and repairs continue.

The story is told through the views and memories of Willy, as he continuously slips in to the past. The previous parts of his life are shown through characters entering the present scene. but can only be seen and heard by Willy.

As expected George Henare give a phenomenal performance is this challenging piece. His energy doesn’t falter as he travels through the tempestuous mind of Willy Loman.  He delivers some very moving scenes on stage as well as the perfect balance of frustration, desperation and love for the family. Willy’s story features some complex relationships which cover love, guilt, pride and failed aspirations. George manages to epitomise this character and all his intricacy.

Linda is played by Catherine Wilkin who perfectly portrayed the family matriarch. Her emotional journey is a tough one which requires an actor or her depth and strength to deliver.

George Henare and Catherine Wilkin in Death of a Salesman

The troublesome two sons, Biff and Happy,are played by Ian Hughes and Richard Knowles. They get to have some great ‘brotherly’ scenes together and Richard’s character allows for some laughs and playfulness which he uses well. Ian is able to depict the depressed Biff with sensitivity as this character goes through his own torment culminating with a particularly emotive scene at the end of the play.

Charley and son Bernard, Bruce Phillips and Nic Samson, add to some of the lighter moments in this otherwise sombre play. Bruce gets some great lines and is able to deliver these comically while also bringing us back to reality by being the voice of reason to Willy.

The haunting characters from the past include Willy’s brother Ben, played by Ken Blackburn. His presence felt ominous and is successfully ghostly. He is more than a flashback as he is the man who his brother seems to seek all of life’s answers.

The other is’ the woman’, Annie Whittle, who also remains mostly like a ghostly character and has a suitably creepy laugh too.

The set design by Emily O’Hara holds strong metaphors and symbolism for the text and works well in the space. Using simple, plain furniture pieces and dirt spread on parts of the stage she achieves a glimpse in to Willy Loman’s psyche. The actors are able to manipulate the furniture pieces easily and they also complement the story that nothing is quite solid in this world.

The music and lighting play a huge part in this production as we shift time and locations. They have used both to full effect and understand the power these can bring to a scene.

This is a well known piece which is by no means easy going. Written in 1949 this is still a thought provoking piece of commentary on the American Dream and the expectations we all put on ourselves and those close to us.

This dark sombre masterpiece features outstanding performances complemented by it’s symbolic set and powerful use of sound and lighting.  A solid and triumphant production.

Peach Theatre’s Death of a Salesman plays at Maidment Theatre until 27 October 2012.