Powerful, resonant theatre brought to life in an expertly-paced and well-acted production
The Lyceum makes the wise decision not to have the safety curtain lowered prior to the start of The Price. This means we have the pleasure of enjoying the marvellous set even before the action starts.
Giant armoires and dressers stand like sentinels on stage; whilst smaller items and possessions lie haphazardly placed as if we’re witnessing the aftermath of an explosion in an antique shop. Most strikingly, lines of chairs hang suspended from the ceiling, like strands of their previous owner’s DNA.
Arthur Miller’s The Price is a realistic, character-driven piece which focuses tightly on the relationship between two estranged brothers, Victor & Walter. Circumstance reunites them as they are forced to sell their late father’s possessions and decide how best to split the proceeds.
Although both dialogue-heavy and character-driven, The Price is perfectly paced by director John Dove, who ensures the audience are captivated throughout in a powerfully understated piece of theatre. It is a production very much of two halves. In the first, we see Victor pick through the belongings on stage and through the bittersweet memories they evoke. Greg Powrie gives a believable and understated performance as the stoic yet embittered Victor, a man approaching his 50th year with a mixture of resignation and regret.
His wife Esther (Sally Edwards) joins him as Miller dissects their fading, passionless relationship in front of our eyes. “We were always about to be,” bemoans Esther; teetering on the brink of alcoholic depression though still possessing flashes of youthful optimism. “Vic, you look beautiful,” she says, observing her husband step back into his old fencing stance, in a touchingly observed piece of writing and acting.
When Solomon (James Hayes), the aged yet lively furniture dealer arrives to give Victor ‘the price’ for the furniture, he injects some brevity into the mood. Hayes gives an energetic performance in the part; straying away from Shylockisms and cliches and instead making Solomon a Puckish character treading just the right side of comedic relief. By the latter stages of the play, Solomon’s personification of wisdom plays a crucial and pivotal role.
In the second half, brother Walter (a marvellously self-confident and smug Adam Gillett) arrives. In this section of the play, the focus zooms in with uncomfortable closeness to the strained relationship between the two brothers. Although Esther’s character is the least developed of the four, she acts as a reflection of our own shifting allegiances and judgements; ruled by her head one moment and her heart the next, with Edwards giving a convincing and painfully astute performance in the role.
The Price has themes as large and immovable as some of the furniture on stage. Loyalty, family relationships, sentimentality (“there’s no room for emotion in the second-hand furniture business“) and the weight and consequence of past decisions. The title takes on increased resonance as the play moves towards its climax, with the brothers recognising and reacting to the realisation of the true cost of their actions.
The Lyceum has started the 2010 part of their season strongly here, with – some may say – a return to more traditional, less edgy productions than in 2009. That said, Dove’s compelling production has an undercurrent of subtle tension and threat, brought to life by a cast who are a delight to watch, which ensures The Price is an enjoyable, thought-provoking and intelligent piece of theatre.