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Review: Death Of A Salesman Royal Exchange Theatre

Star rating: 5/5

Finally a step in the ‘colour brave casting’ direction for The Royal Exchange Theatre

Don Warrington, following his phenomenal performance in King Lear once again graces the Royal Exchange Theatre in Sarah Frankcom’s take on the classic play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. The play, about a father and career salesman Willy Loman and his fall at the hands of capitalism, is just as relevant today as it was 70 years ago when Miller wrote it.

This production was the perfect example of colour brave casting and I applaud Frankcom for making the bold choices that added layers to a play that most of us studied to death while in school. Frankcom’s decision to take race into consideration transformed the play from just a play about a man and his fight against the capitalist system, to a play about a black man seeking validation for himself in a world that perhaps doesn’t accept him and his children.

Colour blind casting, the alternative that has been used in theatres as a way to correct the racial imbalance on stage doesn’t really work. The idea that race can be ignored or turned a ‘blind eye’ to has already been criticised for being a racist concept. What is interesting about this play and the work that Frankcom has done to challenge racist perceptions, is that it looks as if thought has actually gone into the casting. It isn’t colour blind casting, rather colour brave casting.
Mellody Hobson in her TedTalk ‘Be Color Brave Not Color Blind’ says “It’s time for us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation about race. If we truly believe in equal rights and equal opportunity in America, we need to have real conversations about this issue. We can’t be colour blind, we have to be colour brave.”
And this is exactly the kind of braveness that Sarah Frankcom and the Royal Exchange Theatre have shown with this production of Death of a Salesman.  

We the audience, are asked questions about loyalty, pride and fatherhood as a canopy of trees hangs over the set. Leslie Travers manages to provide commentary in the form of the set design that leaves us circling round the nature versus city conversation prevalent throughout the play.

Warrington’s Loman is one that seems to hit all the layers, from chaotic and childish to cut throat businessman and father. He embodies Loman’s personality and just when you think we’ve hit the climax and the tension cannot be raised any higher, Warrington and the rest of the cast Buom Tihngang (Happy) and Ashley Zhangazha (Biff) take us further. 

Death of Salesman is running until Saturday 17 November 2018 at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Afshan D'souza-Lodhi
Afshan D'souza-Lodhi is a poet and playwright based in Manchester. As well as her own writing Afshan is keen to develop other younger and emerging artists. You can find her fighting against police brutality and injustice alongside the Northern Police Monitoring Project.

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