DEATH OF A SALESMAN
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh Forty years on (the play is set in 1948 and was first performed the following year) lan Wooldrldge’s production of Arthur Miliers’ play re-explores the humanity of the characters and events rather than uses the occasion to add an extra layer of analysis to this famous exploration of the American Dream.
it’s an approach perfectly justified by the results. Paul Maxwell’s Willy Loman is an immaculate study of an individual who is nevertheless, ordinary. Throughout, the production is able to demonstrate that the tragedy for these characters stems not from great unfulfilled potential, but one from false hopes. Willy is never going to be a highly successful salesman, and his sons aren’t going to make it big in business together. Simply they don’t have it in them — but as Biff, played fluently by Bill Leadbitter, discovers - it is the self deception that is so dangerous.
The context of the play suggests the way in which America's society is to blame for the self deception, but the production chooses to locus on the bewilderment of the characters. Consequently perhaps, l have never before been as moved by the play’s conclusion nor, as a whole empathised as greatly with the characters. The emblematic role of the characters is necessarily reduced. Instead of the Mother at the Hearth of America, Edith Macarthur plays Mrs Loman as an upright, strong willed woman with the sort of independent strength that might have come from a different, perhaps socially better off, background. it lends itself to a rather different explanation of her ability to see Willy’s late but inability to do anything about it, but dramatically it works, avoiding what can be a patronising portrayal of a woman.
With all great tragedies, a production need only accurately strike one face of the work to lllumine its hidden depths. The Royal Lyceum’s has shown that its aim is spot on, providing an opportunity to appreciate the greatness of Arthur Miller’s most painful play. (Nigel Billen)
Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
in the end it all comes down to the French windows. I can think of only one play whose set makes use of these peculiarly West End artefacts and yet still manages to be entertaining. So When the curtains (curtains!) open on the Brunton Stage for Sandy Hellson’s production of Simon Gray’s ‘Stage Struck’, you can maybe cope with the wall-to-wall carpet and the acres of wallpaper and even the drinks trolley, but you just know that someone very, very ordinary is about to enterthrough those wretched French windows.
And enter he does. Rather stlffly. But not without enthusiasm. Or at least with as much enthusiasm as can be reasonably mustered when faced with such a dreary excuse for a comedy thriller. This sort of thing may rake in the dollars in Shaftesbury Avenue, but
Death of a Salesman. Lyceum
there’s really no excuse for the Brunton to be bothering itself with such mediocre fare.
With one character, Anne, being a sucesslul actress and her husband, Robert, being an ex-stage manager, the play is one of those awkward affairs that makes copious theatrical allusions which too easily end up sounding like unheeded advice. And there is a whole series of laboured twists in a plot which might have been predictable were it not so unremarkable. Even the bright confidence of director Sandy Neilson (bravely taking the part of Robert for an ill Martin Black) couldn’t elevate the play into anything more than a moderate diversion. (Mark Fisher)
SLIPPING INTO DARKNESS
First shown at the Traverse, Jamal Ali’s ‘Slipping Into Darkness‘ (Black Theatre Co-Op) is a potent, poetic monologue on the state of modern Britain seen from the perspective of a black man. The lights go up on a circular set, divided by cage-like doors— a neatly symbolic representation of the urban jungle —which performer Calvin Simpson makes his prison and his domain as he moves around it.
With a simple catalogue of derogatory names that black people are, and have been, called, Simpson rapidly establishes the sense of a whole history of degradation. Little by little the picture is broadened to incorporate satirical attacks on both Left and Right politicking and sketches of urban depression. Feeling his way through Ali’s text, which ranges from rap to lyrical and erotic verse, Simpson creates a vivid impression of the power of words and establishes a constantly-changing relationship with the audience. At the beginning of the run this was not fully worked out, and the piece, becoming repetitive and hectoring began to feel over long. But both performance and writing are powerful and witty, pointing out the importance of finding a voice. (S.H.)
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
King’s Edinburgh and Theatre Royal Glasgow
‘l'm not living with you, we just occupy the same cage,’ screams Maggie to
Brick, and if you’re watching a half-way reasonable production of this classic deep South drama, you’ll know exactly whatshe means.
Tennessee Williams’ ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ is a masterpiece of sustained and increasing claustrophobia. as all the characters come to realise they are living on an emotional knife’s edge.
As ‘Maggie the cat,’ Lindsay Duncan is the first tortured figure to make her presence felt on the National Theatre’s atmospheric plantation home sets. But the first act suffers a little through her inability to make something entirely convincing out of the Scarlett O’Hara accent and difficult lines like: ‘I'm catty because I’m consumed with envy and eaten up with longing.‘ A pity, because the actress who made her name in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, becomes more believable as her part gets less histrionic, and in general the second and final acts are everything they should be.
Particularly successful is fan Charleson as Margaret’s laconic, semi-clad husband Brick. Charleson gives a magnificently controlled performance, his face initially set in an expression of uncompromising weariness and disgust as his wife airs her sexual frustrations. Brick’s gradual release of anger, shame and painful honesty is beautifully handled by Charleson in the second act.
By the third act, Big Daddy's birthday party, the occasion of the play’s grotesque family union, has become a parodic ‘death party’, with Big Daddy nursing new cancer pains off stage and Big Mama suddenly the focus of vulture-like attention from her family as they break the news to her. inspired casting and the director, Howard Davies’ superb timing, mean that we are constantly reminded of the materialistic hierachy that threatens to take overthe family seat, as the spoilt, fat off-spring of Brick's sensible brother and sister-in-Iaw, rush in screaming as if they owned the place already.
By drawing us into the cage and letting the lines create the tension, Howard Davies makes his audience vulnerable too. We can feel the hand of death and the poignancy of life which must be ‘allowed to continue, even afterthe dream of life is over.’ (Stephanie Billen)
between a mother and her teenage son. I KING'S THEATRE 2 Leven Street. 229 1201 . Box Office Mon-Sat 10am—8pm. Bar. [D] [E] Jack and the Beanstalk Until Sat 20 Feb. 7pm. Mats 2. 15pm on £4.50-£6.50. Cones £2.50-£3.50. Jimmy Logan is Dame in his own panto — a version of the old tale featuring the excellent L'na McLean as Wondernan. The longest running ofall the pantos and the sets are spectacular. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Mon 22 - Sat 27 Feb. 7.30pm. Sat mat 2.30pm. £5-£9.50. Mon all seats half-price. (‘oncs Tue-Thurs half-price (excluding children). The National Theatre in their superb new production of Tennessee Williams' rarely performed play. See Feature. Lunch and Listen wed 24 Feb. 1pm. £2. Ian Charleson. who plays Brick in ('ur on a Ha! 'I’m Roof. is interviewed and answers audience questions about his career and the production. National Theatre Careers Session Fri 26 Feb. 10.30am. Free. A panel ofNational Theatre personnel and company members offer advice and answer questions for school leavers and students who have a vocational interest in any aspect of theatre. (iroups should reserve places by ringing NT Iiducation on til 261 9808. Maid of the Mountains Mon 29 Feb - Sat 5 Mar. 7.30pm. Sat mat 2.30pm. £2~£4.50. Southern Light Opera (‘ompany in the operetta. I MANOELA THEATRE (iateway Exchange. 2— 4 Abbeymount. ool 0982. (‘ale and bar facilities during performances. X-Poetry'l‘hurs IS Feb. 8pm. £1.50(£1 ). An evening of hard-hitting poetry and song from local writers. Skirmishes Wed 2 -~ Sat 5 Mar. 7.30pm. £2.50(£2 ). Focus’l‘hcatrc in their successful Iiroduction of(‘atherine llayes's play about two daughters and their realtionship with their mother. Who is dying. Indian Buffet Banquet and performance Thurs 25 Feb. Spm. £2.50(£l .50); FriZb Feb. (1 for 7pm. buffet banquet. 9. 15pm performance. Tickets: £7.50 (£6.50) for buffet and show : £2.50 (£1 .50) for show only. Roger Fly and Ian Smith entertain in unctmventional manner. A performance each evening “Smith Barks Back' and ‘Iily's last Stand'. preceded on the Friday by an Indian Buffet Banquet with performance speeches and routine from the two. I NETHERBOW 43 Iliin Street. 5569579. Box Office iiiam---i.30pm. 7—9pm perf. evgs. (are. [1)]. [Ii]. An Audience with McGonagall and The Cutting-Off Piece Tue 16 — Sat 20 Feb. 7.30pm. £3 (£2). Stansfields Players in two plays by Donald Campbell. An Audience wit/i .llttiunugull celebrates Scotland's great bad versificr and The (‘utting ()ff l’t'ct't' tells the tale of a country lad who has failed to make his fortune in the city. it Happens Every Day Tue 23 — Sat 27 Feb. 7.30pm. £3.50 (£2). Marmelade Productions in the premiere ofa new play by Margaret Dent which. described asa tr'agi-comedy. looks at a mother and daughter coming to terms with bereavement. See Touring. Tennessee Williams v The Critics Thurs 25 (Si Fri 26 Feb. lptn. £2. The National Theatre Company. whose production of (ti! on a Hot 'l‘in erfis at the Kings' Theatre. Edinburgh and Theatre Royal. (ilasgow in a selection ofTennessee Williams‘ writings. Seeing Red Wed 2--Sat 5 Mar. 1pm. £1. ()xygen Ilouse bring back their enterprising and highly successful venture ofone~act lunchtime plays. This season focuses on new drama; the first beinga one man play by Jimmy Begley about a plumber with hidden depths. I PLAYHOUSE (ireenside Place, 557 2590. Peter Pan Tue 16 — Sat 20 Feb. 7.30pm. Sat mat 2.30pm. £9.50. £7.50. £5.50. Cones. £2 off all prices. The successful West End production of J . M. Barrie's classic tale of
22 The List 1‘) Feb— 3 Mar 1988