Some, it’s true, find Miller a preachy fellow – Windy Miller, you might say. But with this production, first seen at the Tricycle Theatre in London, now revived and touring, The Price is, well, right.
Two of the four original cast remain, crucially both Larry Lamb and Warren Mitchell (best known as Alf Garnett), who has the distinction of being described by Miller himself as the best Willy Lomax he’d ever seen when he starred in Death of a Salesman in 1979, netting an Olivier award. Last year, the play saw Mitchell pick up a deserved second, for best supporting actor.
When I first caught this revival in 2003, I thought it one of the finest things I’d seen all year. It’s still very impressive, on second viewing. Brian Protheroe very ably fills the role originally played by Des McAleer, though Nancy Crane, taking over from Sian Thomas, fares less well. But more of this anon.
The Price, like Miller’s anti-communist allegory The Crucible, is an “ishoo” play. The Wall Street crash runs through Miller’s work like Blackpool through rock. But here the lesson is leavened with humour, courtesy of the character of 89-year-old Solomon, a wily antiques dealer, played to comic perfection by Mitchell.
Victor (Lamb), a cop, is finally disposing of his late father’s effects now that the apartment block housing them, his former family home, is about to be pulled down. He has, it transpires, sacrificed his hopes of a career in science in order to look after his father, who was ruined by the crash. But Victor’s own failure to succeed materially has taken its toll on his marriage, and he remains estranged from his brother Walter (Protheroe), who got out early and found fortune as a top surgeon.
The question here, as in Miller’s All My Sons, is: do we take responsibility for one another? For Miller, the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’, but The Price is too good a play for the argument to be a one-sided one.
The one weak link in the production, directed afresh by Sean Holmes, is the lack of a sense of a life shared in Crane’s performance. But this is the only weak link. And those sensitive to dud American accents can be reassured. To this ear at least, they all sounded pretty good.
This Price is still right on the money.
- Pete Wood (reviewed at Bath's Theatre Royal)
Note: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from 12 September 2003 and this production's West End run at the Apollo Theatre.
Not nearly as well known as Death of a Salesman, The Crucible or All My Sons in the canon of "Greatest Living Playwright" Arthur Miller, 1968's The Price is nevertheless revealed to be as ultimately as absorbing as any of them in this riveting revival that has deservedly transferred from Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre to the West End.
Another Miller play in which the present is very much haunted by the past, The Price revolves initially around the price that an appraiser offers for the detritus of a New York home, but more crucially around the price that has been paid by the adult sons of the man who lived there in their respective devotion to and rejection of him.
It's a familiar Miller theme and cycle, with the kind of truth-telling that finally exposes the past for what it was amidst a family wrenched by unfinished business. But it kicks off in high entertaining style with a first act that introduces an indecently funny and brilliant character study by Warren Mitchell as the nearly 90-year-old appraiser Solomon, keen to strike a deal with Larry Lamb's Victor, a 50-year-old policeman trying at long last to dispose of his late father's goods now that the building where he once lived is about to be torn down.
But while the piece is a little unbalanced by Solomon's virtual disappearance in the second act - which is dominated instead by a confrontation between Victor and the return of his estranged surgeon brother Walter (Des McAleer) - an intense, searing drama unfolds about loyalty, responsibility, guilt and family secrets. A series of emotional landmines are negotiated and then detonated by revelations that bring all the skeletons out of the family closet, revealing old wounds that have never quite healed and resentments that have long festered.
And in Sean Holmes' production, dense with detail in a set by Anthony Lamble that is permeated by neglect, the pain is brought vividly to life in every aching encounter. Besides Mitchell's star comic turn, that's also honourably truthful instead of purely caricatured, the powerful duel between the brothers is stunningly taken by Lamb and McAleer, while Victor's wife Esther (Sian Thomas) looks helplessly on.
- Mark Shenton
Note: The following review dates from October 2002 and this production's original run at the Tricycle Theatre in London.
The fact that The Price is performed so rarely in London is strange, given that the UK has always been particularly receptive to author Arthur Miller and that this is one of his more commercially successful plays.
But then, it's a play that goes to the very heart of the American dream, dealing with what Miller believes is the truly defining moment of 20th century: the 1929 stock market crash, which launched the Great Depression. Set in the mid-1960s, The Price - about brothers Victor and Walter coming to terms with their father's bankruptcy and the effect it's had on their relationship - reminds us that the repercussions of this disaster were still felt many years later.
This is typical Miller territory; the theme of families torn apart by the effects of capitalism one he frequently returns to. But there's a biblical undercurrent here as well with echoes of the story of Jacob and Esau. And in Sean Holmes' production, it's also invested with a sense of timelessness. With no signs of the 1960s readily evident in designer Anthony Lamble's magnificent pile of junk (and that's a compliment), this could be any era. Only the cost of goods has changed.
There are some excellent performances from all the cast, particularly Larry Lamb as an honest policeman, the epitome of a stolid, gum-chewing, decent human being. Most of the time, Lambs speaks in quiet measured tones, which makes his anger at his brother even more shocking. Equally good is Warren Mitchell's octogenarian furniture dealer, Solomon. A very Jewish wisecracker, spouting deeply mangled English, he supplies the comic touches. And we certainly can believe that this nimble-footed old man was once the Jewish acrobat and vaudevillian that he claims to have been.
As the successful brother, Des McAleer stands smugly upright in his camel-hair coat and hard-won prosperity and Sian Thomas' Esther, Vic's wife, is a back-combed termagant, her hard aquiline features rather uncomfortably resembling Mrs Thatcher - another sharp reminder of the timelessness of Miller's themes.
Unfortunately, Miller goes too far in stereotyping his characters - did Vic really have to be a public servant? Did Walter really have to be a nursing home profiteer? - and crosses, to ill effect, that fine line between propaganda and analysis. Still, there's no doubt that Miller's thrusts continue to find their mark today. As we sit in the midst of another crisis in the stock market, you can't help but wonder how many Enron and WorldCom shareholders are going to see the same crises and ruptures in their families in years to come?
- Maxwell Cooter