Robin Kingsland, Elaine Claxton, Jon Rumney
The Price is not the best known of Arthur Miller’s plays, but Giles Croft has provided a reminder of its potency in his thought-provoking and engaging new production.
With the backdrop of our own faltering economy, this timeless play has been lent a deliciously dark touch of irony, posing a scathing challenge to the blind pursuit of material gain, berating a consumer culture in which shopping has become a form of salvation.
Opening with historic news bulletins that set the play quite clearly in the 1960s, in an increasingly prosperous New York City, the play’s dark undercurrents gradually reveal themselves.
The Price tells the tale of two brothers, who must come together in order to divide the fortune that their late father has left to them a veritable jumble sale, strewn around the charming stage set like an explosion in an antique dealers’. But after sixteen years of estrangement from one another, tensions and old resentments inevitably lurk amongst the family heirlooms.
The markedly different directions the brothers’ lives have taken come to represent the vast chasm the Great Depression cast across American society. So on the one hand we have Victor – a New York policeman whose decision to forgo medical school to care for their father a man who lost everything in the crash – has forced his life down a lesser path than that of Walter – an affluent doctor who managed to achieve Victor’s failed dream.
Robin Kingsland provides an understated yet sensitive portrayal of Victor, making it all too easy to empathise with this broken man and his aspirational desperate housewife Esther played by a captivating Elaine Claxton.
But while both paint separately sympathetic portraits, together they are conspicuously lacking in chemistry though this is as likely a contrived effect as it is an accident. The two are as resigned to one another as they are to the mediocrity of their existence, but theirs is at least one which is based on solid foundations.
Unlike Walter – the living embodiment of the rat race itself, he is aggressively individualistic and has his wealth to show for it, but at what price comes his prize? Divorced and prematurely burnt-out, he presents a no more optimistic portrait of life’s possibilities, and Beames plays him accordingly, exuding confidence but reigning in his usual charisma.
But the star performance in this production undoubtedly belongs to Jon Rumney, whose Solomon (the ageing Jewish antiques dealer who comes to value their fortune) provides moments of wonderfully comic respite from the stark reality of the play, along with a few home truths from the wisdom of old age.
As he muses: “If you can’t understand the viewpoint, you’re not gonna understand the price”, and while it might be a bitter pill to swallow, the very fact that most of us are coming to understand Miller’s rather pessimistic viewpoint the hard way is what makes this such an incredibly relevant play for our times.