Rebecca Goldsmith is a 16 year old student and member of RSC Key, currently studying for her GCSEs, who recently attended the RSC performance of Death of a Salesman at Stratford-upon-Avon.
Gregory Doran’s production of Death of a Salesman was stunningly tragic, doing justice to Arthur Miller’s original screenplay through its depiction of the emotional and mental toil of the Great Depression. A flawless cast perfectly delivered their roles, including Antony Sher as father Willy Loman and Alex Hassell as eldest son Biff who previously acted together last year in Henry IV Parts I and II.
As portrayed in this production Willy Loman’s character acted as a personification of the lost American Dream, as he sought to achieve accomplishment, renown and significance to the point of futility, in an era chocked by unemployment and poverty. The final words of the play ‘we’re free’, spoken by Willy’s wife Linda played by Harriet Walter, reflect the imprisonment many felt inside the 1930’s society due to the impossibility of defying insignificance. In the land of the free, ‘freedom’ was redefined as death and escaping the chains of their society where hard work amounted to no real reward.
What particularly struck me whilst watching the play was the astounding visual symbolism achieved by the production. A poignant example of this was during the second act when Willy, entranced in his dream that eldest son Biff will fulfill his aspirations of greatness following Willy’s own firing, sows seeds in the small garden patch outside their house. This sowing of seeds acts as a representation of Willy’s desperate attempts to create prosperity, and despite his careful reading of the instructions nothing grows: reflecting how in the Great Depression, as Willy’s life encapsulates, despite obeying the rules of society and dedicating your life to working, there are no rewards to be reaped and no achievements to be claimed. In addition to this, the barren patch of earth is used later as Willy’s grave revealing how the delusion of his ability to control his fate and achieve greatness lead to his mental deterioration and death.
Having never studied the play before, this production has sparked a new interest in the literature created during the post-Depression era and an irony has occurred to me throughout my research: that a decade so poor and full of disposability and impermanence has produced such rich and powerful texts, many of which have connected with multiple generations and will continue to do so for years to come.
Death of a Salesman will be transferring to London to play from the 9 May. If you're aged 16-25 you can get BP £5 tickets for the performance. Follow the link for more information.