Arthur Miller RIP. Willy Loman is alive and well and in the excellent hands of Hearth Theatre in the heart of Melbourne.
Hearth Theatre has breathed life into this tortured character and produced a poetical, powerful and ultimately poignant production.
Paul English is mesmerising as the pivotal character, Willy Loman. His is an achingly accurate performance as he portrays the hopes, dreams, and torments of the travelling salesman.
Willy and his family first came to life on the stage in 1949 in Miller's Pulitzer prizewinning Death of a Salesman. This is the story of an ordinary man chasing the American Dream, a dream which has relevance in many countries. It's also a dream which is unnervingly accurate in 2022.
The two-act tragedy set in New York has gained momentum throughout the decades and is considered a modern-day masterpiece. The unfolding of this salesman's life, his dreams, his worries, his failures, and his family is analogous, even decades later, with so many, and recognisable by so many.
English as Willy Loman is central and a tour de force, but the entire ensemble and production team also underpin the success of this production. Death of a Salesman is known to the seasoned theatre-goer but this production is out of the ordinary. It's pacy, profound and almost magical.
New York is the setting and 1940s the era. Yet Set Designer Adrienne Chisholm has created a panoramic stage at fortyfivedownstairs, stacking cardboard cartons throughout. These seem to reflect both the utilitarianism and yet productivity of the sales world. She has also used the large windows and the outdoor area of the theatre creating an almost 1940s film noire effect. Dry leaves are scattered throughout the panoramic area and add whimsy and nuance to the unadorned world of the Loman family.
Composer and flautist Sophie Weston's music adds to the whimsical nature of this production, and the lighting design by Shane Grant is so effective as to enhance, rather than detract from the action onstage.
And then there's the cast – all with impeccable timing, and all powerhouse performances.
Charlie Cousins flawlessly portrays the earnest, lovable, and truth-seeking elder son Biff Loman, as does Ross Dwyer as the hapless younger brother, Happy Loman. Hapless because he, like his father, is caught in the chimera of the American Dream. Aside from their relationship with father Willy, their brotherly rapport is palpable and adds another layer to an already compelling production.
Margot Knight completes this nuclear family as the self-effacing, mother Linda Loman. Knight successfully portrays Linda's oscillating temperament as she converses with her husband and sons. With her husband she is submissive, caring, supportive and doomed to a hopeless life. She is more direct and assertive with her sons. Knight's performance is utterly believable.
The Lomans are the central family in this play but all of the cast bring their A-game.
Director Christopher Tomkinson has gathered an excellent ensemble of 13 actors, and a strong production team to create a work of art of this classic play.
Hearth Theatre company prides itself on being "theatre with heart". It has certainly put the heart and soul back into this play which was on the high school curriculum for many years. If only, high school students (and former students) could find their way to central Melbourne this February.
Hearth Theatre presents
Death of a Salesman
by Arthur Miller
Director Christopher Tomkinson
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane Melbourne VIC
Dates: 3 – 27 Feb 2022
Tickets: $55 – $40