Sunday, 15 February 2009

The Price - Liverpool Playhouse

The Price by Arthur Miller
Director: Giles Croft
Reviewer: Kate Cottrell

It was a timely choice by the Liverpool Playhouse, in conjunction with the Nottingham Playhouse, to bring to the stage one of great dramatist Arthur Miller’s lesser known plays. The Price, first produced in 1968, explores complex family relationships, duty, honour and the importance of money. In a time when jobs are precious and scarce and finances are being hit hard by economic forces out of our control, Miller’s work offers a perspective which perhaps demonstrates the real, and very personal, price of the credit crunch.

Throughout the piece, there are tinges of Miller’s ideology and the communist leanings that brought him in front of the McCarthy jury, through the different lives of two brothers – Victor and Walter. The choices that the characters’ made, when faced with their father’s bankruptcy and depression in the Wall Street Crash of the 1920’s, demonstrate the great American struggle between doing what we are duty bound to do and doing what we want to do in order to achieve the American dream.

Robin Kingsland delivers a superb performance as Victor, a regular American cop who has lived a quiet and reasonably happy life. In a different performance the character of Victor might be portrayed as a tortured soul – a man deeply unhappy with his life. Yet through allowing Kingsland a good 3 minutes on stage alone at the beginning of the piece – looking around his family home, reminiscing at old furniture and records – director Giles Croft sets up a different scenario and it is the entrance of Victor’s wife, Esther, played by Elaine Caxton, that seems to change the atmosphere. Claxton’s portrayal of Esther is as a plain woman, dissatisfied with the card life has dealt to her and with the life her once promising husband has provided and what we see, through this, is Victor as a man drowning under his wife’s needs and expectations. The couple’s relationship and, crucially the power dynamic within this marriage, is explored with depth and delivered expertly by good direction and strong performances.

Yet, it is Jon Rumney as ageing furniture appraiser Solomon who really lifts the piece, breathing life into the family scenario and providing real moments of comedy.

It would be impossible not to mention the set which is beautifully put together and, through its dark and ornate furniture stacked up high, creates an imposing atmosphere for the story to be played out in.

As with much of Miller’s work, The Crucible being the notable exception, The Price is much more about conversation than action, yet the piece does draw you in and the parallels between the world of the play and ours in 2009 are clearly and easily drawn. A very enjoyable and thought-provoking evening which will leave you questioning your beliefs in the power of money and the strength of family.

The Price Runs at the Liverpool Playhouse until Sat 28th Feb
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