Arthur Miller classic takes center-stage in Shakespeare's hometown

Thu Apr 2, 2015 8:29am EDT
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By Ben Hirschler

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, England (Reuters) - Arthur Miller's quintessentially American work "Death of a Salesman" has been parachuted into Shakespeare's hometown and given the unique honor of playing on the Bard's birthday this year.

The portrait of a broken American dream is lauded as "the greatest American play of the 20th century" by director Gregory Doran, whose new production in Stratford-upon-Avon has subtle Shakespearean overtones.

This year marks the centenary of Miller's birth and, as with Shakespeare, his writing is remarkable for its enduring insight into psychology and relationships.

Doran's show, which opened on Wednesday, toys with those parallels by casting Antony Sher and Alex Hassell as Willy Loman and his son Biff, following their performances as Falstaff and Prince Hal in "Henry IV Parts 1 and 2".

Sher plays ageing salesman Willy, the main protagonist of Miller's play, as a rotund moustachioed figure, yet one suffering a breakdown similar to that of King Lear as he talks to himself with a faraway look and heads towards self-destruction.

It is no coincidence that Sher, a renowned Shakespearean actor, will play Lear on the same stage next year in a production that Doran sees as a companion piece to Miller's classic.

As Willy's dreams and disappointments pull at the heart strings, his position as a small cog in the American economic machine is driven home by a set of vast apartment blocks squeezing out his tiny house in Brooklyn.

On one level, the story of a traveling salesman in the first half of the last century seems a long way from the modern digital world, but the tale of how decades of hard work fail to deliver Willy's hoped-for better life still resonates.   Continued...

People look at a flaming depiction of William Shakespeare during a firework display at the Royal Shakespeare Company marking the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth in Stratford-upon-Avon, southern England April 23, 2014.   REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett