I don’t believe I am giving too much away – thinking in terms of spoiler alerts – when I say here and now that yes the aforementioned dies in Death of a Salesman. That is to say, Anthony Sher pegs it in a self-inflicted kind of a way just near the end of the Arthur Miller play that has just closed at the Noel Coward Theatre in London’s St Martin’s Lane. By way of context, since this always matters at least to me, I don’t think I have ever seen a more crowded bunch of central London streets of a summer’s afternoon than when we emerged from a New York brownstone street beautifully recreated in W1, and into the steamy heat and teeming crowds milling round the Seven Dials the other Saturday, as this show ended its excellent run that same day. I might add that Sher has been brilliant as long as I have known his performances, beginning with the extraordinary television dramatisation of ‘The History Man’ in 1981 when he knocked everyone for six.
Arthur Miller was a lefty sort of playright, in this work blowing the cover on the American dream at the latter end of the distinctly smug 1940s when America had won the war, defeated all comers, and now ruled the roost with the American Way. It was smug here in Britain too of course, later on. But as always the USA was way ahead of us, and more to the point it was even more definitively global top dog – a position we had long since had to give up (without ever quite being able to admit it to ourselves). In the play our hero has bought into the dream bigtime, and convinced himself he is part of it, and talked himself into a corner as only a saleman could. But the unfeeling giant chewed him up and spat him out, and his humiliation is completed by his two sons’ struggles with the post-war world. It wasn’t meant to be like that.
In fact, he could be taken as an analogy for the UK, still endlessly deluding itself with reruns of past glories, reality only now biting into the flabby posterior, and all is ignominy from now on. It may be smug of me to say that nevertheless London seems to have it all right now…this summer.. It’s perkier than one could think possible, for reasons that are unclear.
I’m off to Edinburgh soon to get another perspective. It’s my second favourite city in these islands, but can things ever be the same now? The world moves on, and history isn’t dead after all. It’s happening all around us. Come next winter, when the power goes off, we shall see…