L-R - Alex Hassell (Biff), Harriet Walter (Linda Loman), Antony Sher (Willy Loman) and Sam Marks (Happy). Photo: Ellie Kurttz
There are lots of things that seem appropriate about the RSC staging a production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.
It is a play that is rich in ideas like Shakespeare's, is a grim as any of his tragedies and has at its heart dreams and illusions like some of his best plays.
Then there is the cast. Antony Sher who plays Willy Loman was last seen playing Falstaff in Henry IV*, a character steeped in his own illusions and dreams. Falstaff is part father figure, part rascally chum to Prince Hal who sees through him and rejects him. Alex Hassell played Prince Hal and in Death of a Salesman play's Willy's son Biff who ultimately rejects his father's principles.
And, like many of the themes of Shakespeare's plays, Death of a Salesman feels as pertinent today as when it was first performed in 1949.
Willy has been a salesman for thirty or so years, travelling far and wide. He believes that being liked is the key to success and yet has never quite attained the success he has dreamed about. He and his wife Linda (Harriet Walter) are getting close to paying off the mortgage on their house but times are tough and Willy isn't bringing in as much commission as he once was.
His elder son Biff has returned home having been working as a farm hand and there are tensions between father and son which Linda is constantly trying to sooth. Happy (Sam Marks) is the younger son and has gone into business and believes a big promotion is just around the corner.
Willy has started talking to himself and these form a series of flashbacks through which we learn of the family's past, how Biff was the apple of his father's eye and going to do great things but then something went wrong.