Paul T Davies reviews David Suchet in Arthur Miller’s The Price now playing at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre.
Wyndham’s Theatre, London.
11 February 2019
Taking part in London’s unofficial Arthur Miller festival, The Price transfers in from the Theatre Royal Bath, just ahead of the Old Vic’s opening of The American Clock. Dating from 1968, the play is set in the attic of a Manhattan brownstone, the childhood home of Victor Franz, who has arranged to meet an antiques dealer, Gregory Solomon, to sell all the contents before the building is demolished. Victor, a police sergeant, is approaching retirement and his wife Esther reminds him that the money would come in very handy. During negotiations, Vince’s brother Walter, a successful Doctor who Victor has not spoken to in years, , walks in and the past, with its long shadow on the brothers, is revealed in the shape of memories of their father, the struggle through the Great Depression, and what each brother sacrificed to survive. It appears that their father wasn’t as broke as he made out, that Victor needn’t had spent his working life in the police, that Walter has fought his own demons, (interestingly, there is a detailed and open discussion about mental health which feels very pertinent now), and Solomon occasionally interrupts the discussion, anxious to close the deal, knowing this is his last chance to work.
The evening belongs to David Suchet and his performance as Gregory Solomon, the almost ninety year old Jewish-Russian antiques dealer, looking to get the best deal, delighted that Victor’s accidental phone call to him has brought him out of retirement. It is sharp, witty comic creation that fits Suchet like a glove, and his pairing with Brendan Coyle’s Victor is a delight, each revelling in the other’s acting, every funny line landing perfectly, and with a well observed air of poignancy as memories begins to be drawn out. A shame then that Miller dismisses Solomon offstage for the majority of Act Two, diminishing the energy of the play. This is not the fault of the actors, the production is very well cast, but Solomon is the dominant character and I wanted more of Suchet who is in, essentially, a supporting role.
Brendan Coyle is excellent as Victor, a man who realises he should have broken away from his father when he had the chance, but lies and self denial prevented him, and the debate with his brother Walter, a wonderfully complex performance by Adrian Lukis, is passionate and very well paced, the argument is slippery and their anger shape shifts with each new revelation. Sara Stewart makes the most of Esther, an underwritten role that could be edited from the play without changing the content or structure that much; she is there to deliver the scenes forward. However, this is not top tier Miller, the play is over written, the characters reach for their coats to leave too many times before another revelation comes, and the stakes are not as high as they are in, for example, The Crucible or Death of A Salesman, and it lacks that killer punch. Perhaps Jonathan Church’s elegant production could have snipped the text a little. Simon Higlett’s excellent set gives prominent acting space, but piles furniture up so that it threatens to overwhelm and crush the brothers- such is the past.
However, when Gregory Solomon returns to close the play, we wonder whether he is an arbiter sent to reconcile the brothers. When he sits in he father’s chair, laughing along to a “laugh record”, we realise he is the embodiment of the patriarch, the wily trickster who will survive. It’s a joy of a performance and does much to compensate for a play that sags a little in the second half.