PREVIEW: Death of a Salesman (Peach Theatre Company)

Richard Knowles (Happy) and George Henare (Willy) rehearsing Death of a Salesman

Miller’s Memorable Masterpiece [by Sharu Delilkan]

Richard Knowles (Happy) and George Henare (Willy) rehearsing Death of a Salesman

The minute Richard Knowles heard that Peach Theatre Company was staging Death of a Salesman he lost no time contacting producer/director Jesse Peach.

“I studied Death of a Salesman at school and I even used one of the monologues for my audition at Toi Whakaari. So I wanted to be involved in any way I could. And when I heard George Henare was going to be Willy I wanted to be a part of it even more.”

Knowles says he was privileged to see Henare playing Willy in Circa’s production of the same show in 2006.

“George’s portrayal of Willy Loman absolutely blew me away. It’s really amazing to be sharing the stage with him and see him work. His treatment of Willy in this production is very different from what I saw, which makes it all the more interesting.”

Knowles plays Happy Loman, the younger of Will’s sons who is likened to a Willy Jr., because this apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Like his older brother Biff, but to a lesser extent, Happy has suffered from his father’s expectations. Possibly because he always felt second best, Happy is hell bent on pleasing his father. Despite his respectable accomplishments in business, and the many, many notches on his bedpost, Happy is extremely lonely.

When asked whether Happy bears any resemblance to himself, Knowles says “Egotistically I would like to say Happy is not like me at all. But if I were honest there are some similarities. For example we’re the same age and about the same build. However all the characters in the play will be recognisable to anyone at any level. That’s what’s so great about Arthur Miller’s writing – it still stands up as a valid piece of theatre after all these years.”

Peach says casting Knowles as Happy as “worked out well. He is a really hard working actor who is amazing with accents. He is everything about that character that I wanted for the role of Happy. He oozes confidence and charm and he’s such a fantastic actor. A lot of people think Death of a Salesman is all about Will and Biff but Richard has brought hell of a lot to the part, which in a way is almost harder being a supporting role. He’s basically managed to turned Happy into a fantastic part.”

Knowles admits that sharing the stage with theatre heavyweights including Ken Blackburn, George Henare, Ian Hughes, Bruce Phillips, Annie Whittle and Catherine Wilkin has been both thrilling and intimidating.

“I haven’t had the chance to do theatre since 2009 when I acted in Auckland Theatre Company’s production of The Pohutukawa Tree. So naturally I’m terrified because all of the other actors are ‘theatre-fit’ at the moment.” In order to prepare for the role of Happy, Knowles has researched his character in depth to ensure he’s match fit.

Having spent a majority of his time working in TV and film over the past few years, Knowles says working in theatre is a refreshing change.

“I love the immediacy of theatre. Once the show starts you’ve gotta tell the story and keep going whatever happens.”

Knowles says he is really enjoying the whole rehearsal process. “Jesse creates a really good environment and he assembles really good people. I like the way he’s very ambitious in whatever he mounts – the way he has no fear. It’s great.”

Peach says that he has learned over time that making theatre is all about collaboration.

“I think I’ve got it right for this play – everyone is contributing so much and it’s great that we’re all on the same page. It’s one of the biggest plays I have done in terms of its literary weight. And of course it’s helped that the script is so powerful.”

Peach Theatre Company presents Death of a Salesman which plays at the Maidment Theatre from 11–27 October. Details see Peach Theatre Company

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