At the end of his script of The Price, Arthur Miller unusually includes a Production Note: “A fine balance of sympathy should be maintained in the playing of the roles of Victor and Walter … Walter is attempting to put into action what he has learned about himself, and sympathy will be evoked for him in proportion to the openness, the depth of need, the intimations of suffering with which the role is played”.
Under David Thacker’s direction, and with superb acting by Tom Mannion (Victor Franz), Colin Stinton (Walter Franz), Suzan Sylvester (Esther Franz) and Kenneth Alan Taylor (Gregory Solomon), this production of The Price by Octagon Theatre Bolton, Stephen Joseph Theatre (Scarborough) and Hull Truck Theatre achieves this perfectly. This enables the audience to be in the unusual position of understanding and sympathising with the position and decisions and of all four characters, and even those of the key but absent character, Victor and Walter’s deceased father (represented by an empty chair).
This is no mean feat, given on the one hand the challenge for the actors of having to deliver particularly long speeches, and on the other, the surface impression of Victor as the principled, moral brother who is a policeman and Walter as the mean and callous go-getting surgeon.
Both acts of the play are set in 1968 on the top floor apartment of a New York building, where Victor cared for and supported his father until his death. The building is about to be demolished, hence the need to sell what is left of the family furniture and possessions. This anticipates a profound looking back and taking stock in Victor, who has also to deal with his repressed resentment of Walter, and to confront his own role in the path his life has taken.
The Depression in 1930s America is part, but only part, of the story.
Starting with only Victor and Esther in the apartment, who Tom Mannion and Suzan Sylvester convince us have a close but tension-ridden relationship, the production builds up to its climax via the arrival of the surprising and very funny 89-year-old ‘appraiser’ Solomon, who has come to price the furniture (but who competently and hilariously eats a hard-boiled egg, his lunch, in the process), followed by stage-stealer Walter, who no-one is expecting, who Victor and Esther have not seen for 16 years, and who may, or may not, have learned from his mistakes.
Act 2, when revelations about investments and loans 30 years ago finally come to light, makes for often intense and uncomfortable watching, but the pace is varied, and there are frequent pauses in which Walter, and especially Victor and Esther, try to assimilate what they are learning. The ending is in part a darkly happy one, with Esther and Victor going to the pictures as planned, and Solomon the survivor unable to control his laughter at the ways of the young and the world.
The Price may present uncomfortable but familiar truths, for example that responsibility for the elderly is rarely shared equally by family members, and that this breeds problems further down the line, and for this reason a good production such as this will always resonate with audiences. But at tonight’s production elicited a lot of laughter too – not in response to the ‘Laughing Records’ fashionable in the 1920s, but in response to Miller’s well-crafted dialogue and these actors’ timing and delivery.
Jane SunderlandThe Price runs until Saturday 7th May, 2011
Times: Evenings 7.30; Matinee on Saturday (2.00 p.m.)
Venue: The Dukes, Moor Lance, Lancaster LA1 1QE
Box office: 01524 598500
Ticket prices: Matinees £10.00 (£7.50 concessions)
Thursday evening £14.00 (£10.00 concessions)
Friday/Saturday evening £16.00 (£12.00 concessions)
• For other reviews, see www.dukes-lancaster.org/theatre/the-price