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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Marks’

When I first saw this play I was about the same age as Willy Loman’s youngest son Happy. Now I’m the same age as Willy Loman. Oh dear. In between I reckon there have only been two major London revivals, which given that it’s one of the ‘big five’ by one of the 20th century’s greatest playwrights, and given the number of Becket, Pinter and Chekov revivals of inferior plays in the same period, seems bizarre. So it’s a big welcome to the transfer of the RSC’s production in Miller’s centenary year.

This play has so much to say about father – son relationships, the compulsion to succeed (and the lengths people go to for success) and of course the American dream. Willy’s success as a salesman isn’t anywhere near as real as he believes, but he bigs himself up for his sons and in turn bigs them up to everyone else. When elder son Biff fails, it breaks his heart, but he’s oblivious to any role he might have played in this. When Biff returns years later, he’s at it again trying to make him what he isn’t. This time it coincides with his own downfall and it all comes home to roost. Wife & mom Linda and younger son Happy are caught up in all of this.

I have to confess I was disappointed at the interval. It hadn’t really got into its stride. An early mobile ringing had visibly unsettled Anthony Sher and from there things seemed somewhat perfunctory. His performance felt like a one-note grumpy old man. I also didn’t feel Greg Doran’s production was delineating the current and flashback scenes well enough (there were a lot of puzzled faces around me). It was all a bit flat. Things looked up significantly in the second half, with the restaurant scene and the following scene back in the Loman home brilliantly staged and performed, but I still felt I was watching acting, I hadn’t lost myself in the play and the characters, and it didn’t engage me emotionally in the way it should.

There was more chemistry between Sher’s Loman and Biff and Happy than there was between Sher and Harriet Walter’s Linda, who seemed too restrained to me; I thought Alex Hassell and Sam Marks were outstanding as the sons. It’s a high quality supporting cast and its good to have live music, in this case a fine jazz quintet playing Paul Englishby’s original score. I wasn’t convinced by Stephen Brimson Lewis’ huge set though – it seemed to rob the play of much intimacy when it needed it.

Maybe my expectations were too high or maybe it was just an off night, but I’m afraid it wasn’t the evening I was expecting or hoping for. A good rather than great Salesman.

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I never got to see this, the second of the Tennessee Williams world premieres at the Cock Tavern, before they were closed down, so it was good news that it was picked up by Jermyn Street Theatre (well, the play’s director is their Artistic Director!).

It’s another short, late play with a similar surreal quality. A mother is leaving her daughter with a sitter so that she and her friend can go out with escorts (from the agency that gives the play its title). The sitter reluctantly takes the job even though she thought she was sitting for a child not someone who is ‘mental’ but rebels and leaves before the adults return. The girl sees an apparition of ballet dancer Nijinsky who comes alive on stage and they talk. The adults return to daughter alone, who proceeds to call the agency and head off for an assignation of her own. This is all apparently a snipe at TW’s mother, who famously had his mentally ill sister lobotomized, with references to his earlier play The Glass Menagerie, though if I hadn’t read this in the programme, it would have gone right over my head!

It’s a curiosity rather than a good play, but it has been given a superb production by Gene David Kirk and Cherry Truluck’s design is outstanding given the size of the theatre. The cast of five are all good, with actor Sam Marks acquitting himself well in the dancing department. It’s a great opportunity to see this intriguing unproduced piece; well done to both the (late) Cock Tavern Theatre and Jermyn Street Theatre.

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