Elliot Douglas is blown away by Mermaids’ latest production of Death of a Salesman at the Barron
I cannot express my happiness and gratitude that this year of reviewing theatre in St Andrews has ended on such a high note. Caelan Mitchell-Bennett’s production of Arthur Miller’s masterpiece could so easily have failed to live up to the hype that such a well-known play by necessity brings – but it truly shone as a testament to what student theatre done right should be.
I have never seen the space of the Barron put to such good use. A black raised level, designed by Mitchell-Bennett and Natasha Maurer, was suitably imposing and minimalist, bringing to life the sad, dark Brooklyn apartment but also symbolising something more profound, with its connotations of urban scaffolding and dockyards. Hunched at a small table by a bed below, the cast seemed small and insignificant. Technical support was provided with typical smoothness by Grace Cowie, and the costumes were suitably and neatly designed by Kat Reynders.
The cast were, without exception, faultless. Miller’s dialogue can catch out even a world-weathered actor, but the performers moved smartly through the fast-paced colloquial dialogue with perfect naturalism. Caitlin Morris, who has made an art out of manspreading this year in Mermaids, was effortlessly convincing as the philandering but troubled Happy, and Timo Marchant was earnest yet tragic as Biff, towering over the other actors and still managing to seem very small and vulnerable when necessary. The body language of all the actors had been planned minutely, with no-one dropping character even for a second and managing to seamlessly jump twenty years back and forward in time. Hannah Ritchie as a middle-aged, pudgy New York man convinced me utterly with her wide steps and deep chuckle. Coggin Galbreath as Uncle Ben and Eilidh MacKinnon as The Woman were both able to revel in character actors’ dream roles, and yet still render them complex and meaningful.
However, the couple at the centre of the tragedy were the stars of the show. Isabel Dollar’s flustered yet controlled tones as Linda perfectly conveyed a woman who has lied to herself for years and still lives in a fantasy world. The layers of her performance made her a constantly fascinating presence on the stage, and with large eyes staring straight into the audience, she performed Linda’s grief during the final scene in a way which was entirely believable and also completely heart-breaking. As her husband, Daniel Jonusas was sensational in the role of Willy Loman. The fresh-faced young actor’s transformation into the shaking, stooping figure of the self-deluding salesman was a masterclass in acting for the stage. He never tripped over Miller’s complex, repetitive monologues and he managed to bring a new life and complexity to what can so easily become a stereotype of a selfish, sad old man. He alternatively dominated the stage and diminished into the background as the play’s inevitable conclusion drew nearer.
Death of a Salesman was a powerful reminder of what student theatre can be if talented people get together to create something ambitious and yet achievable. I heartily congratulate the entire cast and crew.
STARS: * * * * *