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The Price (Liverpool Playhouse)

Philip Key joins the Liverpool Confidential writing team and says there's a lot to like in the latest take on Arthur Miller's play

Published on February 12th 2009.


The Price (Liverpool Playhouse)

ARTHUR Miller's characters tend to be flawed and no more so than in The Price, his 1968 play about sibling rivalry.

At the centre are brothers Victor and Walter, one a New York cop, the other an apparently successful surgeon. They have not seen each other or spoken for 16 years. They meet again when the family home is due to be demolished and the furniture of their dead father is to be sold to a dealer.

Victor is nursing a resentment against his well-off brother, convinced that his own decision to support his father financially has ruined his dreams of a better life as a scientist. Walter, on the other hand, is equally convinced that his brother was the creator of his own misery.

Also on hand for this night of truth-telling is Victor's wife, Esther, and the old dealer who has come to put a price on the house's content. Miller builds to the play's denouements slowly, Walter not arriving on the scene until the end of the first of the two acts (there were three in the original production).

The first act, as in most of the play, is a series of duologues, first between Victor and his wife, and then Victor and the furniture dealer.

Victor's major flaw is his weakness. His wife berates him for his lack of decision - he is coming up for retirement and unsure of what he is going to do - and for his couldn't-care attitude with money. "I want money!" she declares bluntly.

He is easy meat for the dealer, Solomon, a man in his late 80s, who wants to talk before he makes a deal, putting off his offer while he criticises the furniture and reveals some of his life, including a time as an acrobat and a daughter who killed herself.

The real meat of the play is saved for the second act when the brothers tell each other some home truths. Walter wants to help his brother with a job offer, and the suggestion of a tax dodge on the furniture sale, Victor just does not trust him.

Then the truth about their father emerges to put a new light on past events. Miller's play is all in the dialogue with very little real action.

A co-production between the Liverpool Playhouse and Nottingham Playhouse (where it travels after Liverpool), this is a good, solid drama directed without frills by Nottingham's artistic director Giles Croft.

It depends much on performance and it gets four very believable ones from the cast. For an American drama by a British company, the accents seem right, too. At least, at no time did they jar.

Robin Kingsland gives a highly emotional performance as the weak brother Victor, ranging from the laughter with which he opens the play to some fine breast-beating in the later stages.

Elaine Claxton offers the least likeable character as the money-grabbing wife, Esther, but it is in many ways the best performance, so real that you felt like like arguing with her yourself. She is always acting and reacting, even when for long periods she is reduced to being an onlooker. Even then, something seems to be going on in her head.

David Beames's Walter is smart-suited, glib but eventually reduced to some bellowing and hectoring of his own, going red in the face with the effort.

And the Solomon of Jon Rumney is delightfully eccentric, wise like his namesake and full of sideways expressions that raise wry smiles (actual laughs are few in this production).

They also have a splendid set from designer Dawn Allsopp on which to work, crammed full of old furniture, so crammed in fact that some of it hangs from the ceiling.

The Price has become one of Miller's more performed plays in recent years and you can see why companies like it. A cast of just four manage to pack an awful lot into a one set play, from character defects to 20th century history.

Hanging over the drama, for example, is the effect of the 1930s Depression which had ruined the brothers' father and turned him from successful businessman to virtual recluse and thus created the tensions which simmer in the family decades after.

Director Giles Croft suggests in the programme notes that current economic headlines were always intruding on rehearsals, making the play even more relevant.

That may be so but the play is basically about relationships, hidden thoughts, unnecessary suffering and the frailty of the human spirit.

8/10

The Price, Liverpool Playhouse, Williamson Sq, until Feb 28. Tix: 0151 709 4776
www.everymanplayhouse.com

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousFebruary 12th 2009.

Nice to see you on here Mr Key and made me want to go and see this. Hopefully the first of many!

Hooray HenriFebruary 12th 2009.

What a nice surprise. Philip Key writing for Liverpool Confidential. Well done to LC for inviting him, and well done Phil for accepting.Philip Key is a treasure, and we, the readers of Liverpool Confidential, are lucky to have him. I look forward to reading lots more of his reviews.

Liverpool LouFebruary 12th 2009.

Lovely to see Mr Key in his rightful place, talking about arts in Liverpool, hope you are able to do so for a long time to come, nice one Phil!

AnonymousFebruary 12th 2009.

Coolies!

AnonymousFebruary 12th 2009.

Agree with Phil, Play is really good, a little wordy in parts, but great set, and just a good piece of theatre.

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