Perth TheatreThree stars
Arthur Miller's great mid-20th century dramas rarely let you down – but there are times when they seem more pertinent. When Miller directed Death of a Salesman in China, for example, it seemed to speak for a culture far removed from the one in which it was written. Its theme about a life built on the illusory promise of good times to come resonated in early 1980s Beijing.
In today's Britain, by contrast, where all the talk is of austerity and uncertainty, it is that much harder to see ourselves reflected in a play about hope. The tragedy of Willy Loman is that he has invested his life in the American dream and that his imagined success has turned out to be as illusory as the friendships he has forged on the road. He has been living the lie of a pathological optimist for whom nirvana is forever only one lucky break away.
In other words, it's a boom-time play – one that sends out a cautionary warning on behalf of those discarded by a runaway economic system. That is partly why Ian Grieve's production seems more miserable than tragic. In 2011, it is too apparent that Loman's hopes are delusions. We know it can only end badly.
But the play still has tremendous power, and the production captures well the innovation of Miller's dreamlike structure and his keen understanding of family dynamics. In the lead, Ron Emslie makes a persuasively gruff fallen hero, a man in painful denial of his own nervous breakdown, although he is less good at suggesting the charismatic younger man so idolised by his family. There are wobbly moments – notably, a botched final scene – but also the sense of a grave, compelling story. (Pic: Eamonn McGoldrick)
Until 26 February. Box office: 01738 621 031. Then touring.
© Mark Fisher 2011
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