By Heather Reeve
Not a play for the faint of heart, this week’s Dramasoc production was as good as it was depressing. Death of a Salesman centres around the lives of Willy Loman (Caidraic Heffernan), his wife Linda (Yasmin Roe), and their two sons Biff (James Melville) and Harold, “Happy” (James Chetwood), specifically Willy’s mental decline; as he lies and deceives himself in order to conceal his disappointment and guilt about his life and his sons. Meanwhile, his family struggle to accommodate his delusions. Biff, the eldest son, disrupts the family dynamic as he grows tired of playing out his father’s lies, causing Happy to counteract these lies and Linda to despair with both boys, pressing them to leave the house and leave their father in peace.
The skill of the actors stood out in this play, as across the board the performances were rich and faultless. Heffernan had particularly impressive mastery of his tone of voice, utilising a full range of high and wavering tones and a deep, barking delivery, illustrating perfectly Willy’s central antithesis of needing to control his family’s life while dealing with his own chaotic mind. In the first act, I found that Chetwood shone through with particular gusto, strongly presenting his character’s amoral nature and short temper. In the second act, however, the particular strengths of Roe and Melville became evident. Roe held the stage like no other in the moments of rage and fear, while Melville managed to draw, in my opinion, the most likable character of the story out from a cruel and hardened shell. Aside from the core four, it is worth noting the performance of Aaron Smith, who played neighbour Charley with an equally impressive but less demonstrated wide range of expression in his tone of voice and body language, and George Beard-Porcel as Uncle Ben, whose ominous and demanding stage presence was to be revered with and without the assistance of lighting.
The show was impeccably well run. If there were faults, they were minor enough to be missed. Dynamic lighting effects were used liberally and to great effect to illustrate the difference between reality and Willy’s perception, particularly at the play’s end as Willy crossed between cool and warm tones of light, illustrating his choice to listen to Linda or Ben.
The staging of the show felt boxed in at times, as instead of removing set pieces to make room for others, different locations in the house and workplace were used for the most part distinctly, dividing the stage by location. Yet, this lent itself to the play’s subsidiary theme of the frustrations and pressure the sons and father feel at their confinement to office work. The sets were realistic as far as was possible, which supported the overall interpretation of the characters as understandable and relatable: a less abstract interpretation than is often presented.
While by no means a fun Christmas play, Dramasoc has presented a polished and complex final piece for this term, and one the whole creative team should be proud of. The whole evening was 3 hours including an interval, but did not feel dragged out at any point, and I don’t believe the essence of the play could have been preserved if it were condensed. Thanks to Emma Jones and her production team for their hard work, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance.