Reflecting on my history with Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman…

In 1999, the year of the 50th anniversary of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, I directed a production at The Seymour Centre. The previous “Salesman” had been a production with Mel Gibson as Biff in 1982. My show didn’t have Mel Gibson in it. The set was mainly made of newspaper. I was 20. I had decided to neutralise the places – and was adamant that Australian accents – not American were used – the desire for a “natural” Australian voice.” I loved the play for its sense of nostalgia. I wanted to direct it, in a homage to my grandfather – a man who’s stories were perpetually stuck in the past – his life as a young dairy farmer growing up in Pambula… a soldier in Crete… the returned serviceman/regional officer for dairy in NSW. I was invested in the story as a cautionary tale about looking back too much.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about looking back to my first directorial ambitions.

And this isn’t a review – so much as a reflection.

Interestingly, with the decision to stop reviewing, I have learnt very quickly who and where in the industry have great grace and generosity in inviting me shows. The decision had come off the back of some threats and ugly emails. Like Willy Loman, I have been cast aside by some “Howards”- and some others have maintained and sustained their correspondence with me. Belvoir and their team have been one such company that has maintained contact – and in a graceful and generous way.

Sometimes there is a show that reaches beyond the chatter of industry folk and splashed up and into the lives of Sydney’s populace. Simon Stone’s production has acheived that status. Friends of mine, not involved in theatre have headed to Belvoir to experience this show… all of them staggering out in various states of transformation… and I am no different.

There is a pleasure in seeing a piece of writing delivered simply and clearly.

There is pleasure in witnessing performances of superlative strength (Patrick Brammall, Colin Friels, Luke Mullins).

There is little wonder that the show is now to be remounted at Theatre Royal later this year.

Though I must agree with Diana Simmonds review about the transformation of the last moment of bathos, not pathos.
I do think the simplicity of the direction meant the play could ring true.

But as I left the theatre that night, with a friend we reflected on his relationship with his father – and in fact, what I see as a tension between expectations of parents and children – and general inter-generational expectation between artists and within the wider community.

For me I felt a growing sense of sadness, a suspicion that perhaps theatre can not change the world – for surely with a play with the profile and impact that Death of Salesman has had in the western world – surely, we as educated audiences would have learnt the lesson Miller was presenting us with? What deeply affected me was the notion that we have failed as a society to learn from great art. That we have ignored or rejected its message about consumerism (both of things and of people) that we have ignored the idea of loyalty and love, and kindness – that we are still hung up on, and not yet over our delusions of grandeur. And I left the theatre, wondering if this play has made any headway, at all, in our development – because it all felt too relevant, too true, too devastating to face.