Death of a Salesman

Jason Klarwein directs one of the most recognised, respected and prolific plays of the 20th Century, Death of a Salesman for the Queensland Theatre Company next month. Ahead of their opening on February 9th, Rosie asked Jason some questions about the process, the pressure and the importance of the work. Have a read below: 

Jason Klarwein directs Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is a prolific play that has been produced around the world and studied in both high schools and universities. What was it about this play that made you want to bring it to the forefront again?

Salesman is widely considered to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th Century. For a modern play, this is a huge milestone and speaks to Miller’s craft as a writer and an observer of human nature. Its on my bucket list of great plays to work on. There is something wonderful about working on a play with a large cast, great writing and beautiful design.

 

Death of a Salesman is set in the late 1940s, but has been interpreted many ways throughout the play’s history so that it remains significant. What relevance do you believe your particular production has to a 2019 audience? Have you adapted any of the work to suit this modern audience?

Miller, like all great playwrights, had a keen sense of his society and its systems. He lived through the Great Depression, World War Two and the rise of the individual consumer. He saw what unregulated capitalism could do to the common person and that the great ideals of democracy naturally don't go hand in hand with capital markets. That the nexus of a person’s identity and self worth are, as Willy Loman says, not only being ‘liked - but WELL liked’ and that ‘being liked’ is a form of currency itself. And like a good product, in order to be ‘well liked’, we must tell fantastical truths about ourselves to maintain our capital. Herein lies the fundamental existential problem for the modern individual. The inevitable crumbling of democratic ideals in favour of ‘late stage’ capitalism. The inevitable crumbling of self worth and community in favour of hollow anxiety and FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out). That hyper-realistic lies will be told in order to maintain our societal and individual self worth. The examples of Trump, Lehman Brothers, the Global Financial Crisis of 2007/8 of which all evils are now forgotten, the Australian Banking Royal Commission, and the myriad of ‘social influencers’ online who have literally tied their faux physical identity and faux daily lives to the creation of capital through instant ‘likes’. That the perception of substance is more important than substance itself.

How does it feel to tackle such a well-known classic? Were/are you nervous? As a director, Is there pressure to honour the classic or to put your own stamp on the production?

I cant stop smiling. No Im not nervous about it. Ive been preparing for a year and its such a well written play. Of course it will have moments different to other productions as that is the nature of collaborating on such a work. There are some tricky bits but that makes it all the more fun.

 

From Death of a Salesman to The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s plays have certainly garnered quite a following. Why do you think his works continue to be celebrated?

Miller is the ultimate craftsman. In the documentary Arthur Miller: Writer his daughter and film maker Rebecca Miller asks her father, “How do you begin a play? Do you start with a character?” Miller looking up from his other great passion carpentry says, “No. I start with a person. A Human Being!” And this is Miller’s great gift. Somehow, by slight of hand he can take a person like Willy Loman surround him with tender, loving, embarrassing, exhausting, believable family and friends who make us laugh and gasp and sigh with recognition and piece together the scaffolding and upholstery of a masterwork.

What can audiences expect from this show?

​What is unexpected about such a tragedy is that it is also very funny and has great patches of lightness. I hope people have a great time and maybe cry at the end. Also these plays don't come around often so see it while you can.

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:

 

Favourite production you have ever seen?

There are many so hard to choose. 

The Double Bill of Gulpilil and Page 8 at the Gardens Theatre one Brisbane Festival many years ago profoundly influenced the way I think about theatre and storytelling. Both shows had amazing performers in David Gulpilil and David Page. The storytelling was radically different in each show but just as profound.

 

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

A Greek Island

Dream show/role to perform?

Rooster in Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth

Plays or musicals?

Plays always plays, Although I admire the craft of musical theatre

What’s next for you after this show?

The Grin and Tonic Theatre Troupe has 5 shows on the road this year throughout Queensland and Northern New South Wales. So making sure the actors are happy and the shows are going well and teachers and students are happy and excited Grin and Tonic is at there school.

Death of a Salesman opens at QPAC on 9th Feb. For tickets and more information, click here

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