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Antony Sher gets personal

In a role he was born to play

Irving Wardle | March/April 2015

Mingling with Shakespeare’s 450th-birthday festivities, the RSC’s summer season kicks off with a centenary tribute to Arthur Miller: Antony Sher in “Death of a Salesman”. Why? My guess is that it has to do with Sher’s 40-year progress as the creator of a gallery of unforgettable figures, among whom he himself for long remained invisible.

In 2001, Sher published an autobiography explaining why, as a South African homosexual Jew, he had sought anonymity. Then came his performance as the assassin of the South African premier Hendrik Verwoerd in his own first play, “I.D.”, and the impenetrable façade began dissolving into a series of highly personal themes, including the paradoxes of persecution and the outsider’s struggle to assimilate. Some roles, such as the displaced Jewish hero of Miller’s “Broken Glass”, became aspects of Sher’s own story; others formed a sequence of disreputable intruders who threaten the status quo, culminating in last year’s Falstaff—with whom another theme appeared, with Falstaff as an alternative parent, and the Hal-Henry IV relationship mirroring Sher’s unfinished business with his difficult father.

In that double act Sher came together with Alex Hassell. They resume in “Death of a Salesman”, with Sher, as the defeated Willy, hopelessly trying to assert authority over Hassell as his beloved wastrel son. The piece ticks most of the themes in Sher’s list, while leaving you with no idea of what figure will emerge when this incomparable portraitist releases a new Willy Loman into the world. ~ Irving Wardle

Death of a Salesman Royal Shakespeare, Stratford, Mar 26th to May 2nd


THEATRE AT A GLANCE

Skylight (John Golden, New York, to Jun 21st). Three West End hits transfer to Broadway this spring. “Ghosts” with Lesley Manville and the RSC’s “Wolf Hall” adaptations will sell, but the stand-out is Stephen Daldry’s devastating, choreographed revival of David Hare’s two-act confrontation between two ex-lovers. Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy spar, sparkle and circle each other like wary prima ballerinas.

Gypsy (Savoy, London, from Mar 28th). This one had West End written all over it the minute Chichester announced that Imelda Staunton—a glorious, tight-wrapped package of beadiness and bustle—would play Mama Rose in its summer season. Many five-star reviews later, everything has indeed come up Roses.

American Buffalo (Wyndham’s, London, Apr 16th to Jun 27th). David Mamet’s 1975 tale of three junk dealers talking themselves into a potential burglary is an American “Godot”, with money—a rare “buffalo” coin—as the off-stage ineffable. After three seasons of squaring his jaw in “Homeland”, Damian Lewis gets to stretch out as the persuasive Teach, catalyst for all the (in)action.

Endgame/Waiting for Godot (Sydney Theatre Company, Mar 31st to May 9th; Barbican, London, Jun 4th-13th). And while we’re on the subject: Hugo Weaving and Andrew Upton (who co-runs STC with his wife Cate Blanchett) have been exploring Beckett since 2013. In suitably upside-down style, their “Godot” lands in London after they premiere its postscript in Sydney.

Hand to God (Booth, New York, to Jul 26th). Robert Askins’ gothic, off-Broadway comedy from 2014 gets a deserved move midtown. Half David Lynch, half William Faulkner, it features a Texan church’s youth-entertainment programme being hijacked by a Satanic sock-puppet. Not a plotline you come across often.

Everyman (Olivier, London, Apr 22nd to Jul 16th). The National’s first season under Rufus Norris gets off to a poetic start, with a new adaptation headed by Chiwetel Ejiofor. If anyone can make an early Tudor allegory of good and evil come to modern life, he can. ~ ISABEL LLOYD

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