Death of a Salesman, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

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The Independent Culture

From the moment he enters, shuffling wearily with his bags across the Quarry Theatre's spacious stage, Philip Jackson's Willy Loman seems to be carrying a lot more baggage than two worn valises.

Slightly stooped, Jackson bears an air of desperation. As Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman spirals towards its tragic conclusion, his role reveals itself less as one of victim of the American Dream than as embodiment of the American Nightmare.

Jackson's incisive Loman, constantly at odds with himself, teeters constantly on the brink of dejection.

Director Sarah Esdaile skilfully negotiates the no-man's land between fact and fantasy, directing the flashbacks and Loman's hallucinatory moments so that they are woven into the overlapping here-and-now. Loman's entrepreneurial brother Ben (a polished Christopher Ettridge) come and goes with a smooth assuredness.

Playing Loman's long-suffering wife, Marion Bailey is painfully touching in her undying loyalty to a bitter husband and uncaring sons. As the emotionally cramped Biff and his younger sibling Happy, Lex Shrapnel and Nick Barber respectively capture the uneasiness of the disillusioned outsider and the superficiality of the hollow skirt-chaser, moulded by their father's well-meaning but sham philosophy. If less convincing playing their younger selves, Shrapnel at least captures something of the trauma of discovering his father's disastrous duplicity in the hotel scene with The Woman. The smaller parts too are well-played, including the sympathetic Charlie (Tom Hodgkins) and his nerdy son Bernard (Adam Venus) who ends up a successful lawyer.

It's 16 years since this play was last seen at this address, and Esdaile's excellent revival presents it newly minted for a new generation.

To 29 May (0113 213 7700)

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