By Arthur Miller
Directed by Jonathan Church
Running at Wyndham’s Theatre until 27 April
Arthur Miller’s The American Clock (which we reviewed in a past issue) dealt with how the Great Depression directly changed people’s lives in the 1930s. His play The Price, currently running at Wyndham’s Theatre, shows that, for some people, it never really ended. Police sergeant Victor Franz (Brendan Coyle) has invited appraiser Gregory Solomon (David Suchet) to make an offer for his late father’s furniture. Meanwhile, his wife Esther (Sara Stewart) wants him to retire from the police force and complete the college education he abandoned in order to support his father three decades previously. Things are complicated when Victor’s successful brother Walter (Adrian Lukis) turns up.
The main draw for many people will be the presence of David Suchet in the cast. However, while his Solomon is a tour de force, using a combination of bluster, charm and guilt to bully Victor into accepting a price that is a fraction of the furniture’s true worth, he is not the play’s main character. Brendan Coyle’s Victor is the moral centre of the piece. The play is set in 1968, but Victor is still so scarred by the consequences of his family’s fall from grace that took place four decades earlier that he is now unwilling to take even the most straightforward risk.
The play’s real skill lies in the way Miller spends the first half building up the story of a shattered father, loyal son and ruthless brother, only then to reveal that things are a little bit more complicated than we are initially led to believe. Miller is ultimately on Victor’s side, but there are moments when the audience is asked to feel sympathy for Walter, who initially at least appears eager to make amends. Certainly, we get the impression that Victor is using the Depression as an excuse for the way his life turned out. Interestingly, Miller hints that Walter’s greed also has its roots in the Franz family’s past.
Scattered throughout the play are several brief comic moments. Most of them come from Suchet’s character, but a telling moment – when the three men shush Stewart’s Esther when she tries to get involved in the negotiations – earns a knowing laugh from the audience. The play is not intended to be a comedy, but these short interludes provide a counterpoint to the increasing tension and resentment between the two brothers.
Overall, director Jonathan Church, along with the cast, has created an excellent production that makes a strong case for The Price to regarded as one of Arthur Miller’s most accomplished plays. It conveys how the Great Depression changed attitudes towards risk and money far more effectively than any book or documentary.