If you love hearing people express the same emotion through different, but increasingly shouty monologues, then The Price is for you. The 1968 Arthur Miller play is currently playing at The Wyndham theatre with David Suchet (My mum’s obsession) as the eccentric Gregory Solomon and Downtown Abbey’s Brendan Coyle as the stoic and skeptical Viktor Franz.
The Price follows Viktor, a policeman nearing retirement, finally getting ready to sell his father’s possessions. It has been 16 years since his father died and 16 years since he has spoken to his brother, Walter (Adrian Lukis). The resentments and secrets are revealed through desperate outbursts in the second half once Walter arrives, but the first half instead focuses on Viktor arguing with his wife Esther (Sara Stewart) and trying with all his might to get the appraiser Solomon to give him the price for all his dead father’s possessions.
What starts out as a lighthearted and melancholic story focusing on a policeman selling his father’s possessions, slowly transforms into an explosive family drama. The first half is more light-hearted, with the 89-year-old Solomon bumbling across the stage inserting his way into Viktor’s life. Solomon hasn’t worked in years and is energised by the amount of possessions available, but you get the impression that learning about someone’s history is really his lifeblood.
The second half focuses on Viktor and Walter’s relationship, relegating Solomon off-stage for a majority of the act. The play suffers without Solomon and his departure highlights the main issue with the play. The Price meshes comedy and drama in an incoherent way. Instead of weaving comedy into drama and drama into comedy, The Price separates them, causing the audience to sit through long sections of drama, then long sections of farce. Drama and comedy work well together when they are intertwined, leading the drama to pack more of an emotional punch and the comedy to surprise, but when they are sectioned off it causes the whole endeavour to fall flat.
The acting is as terrific all round, with Suchet’s high energy performance as Solomon the stand-out. Solomon is a strange man, but Suchet, although manic brings an authenticity to the role, allowing his more sombre moments to achieve the reaction aimed for. Coyle and especially Lukis bring pathos to their fractured sibling relationship, and Stewart does what she can with an under-developed stereotype.
The problem with a straight revival of a play from a different era is that some of the thinking of the time doesn’t translate to our thinking today. This comes across most clearly with Esther, whose whole purpose is to forward the narrative and emotional stakes for the men. Even worse is that Esther fits into the stereotype of the money-hungry, free-loading woman. Whilst the audience is able to understand and sympathise with the men, Esther is hung out to dry as the unlikable wife in it for herself. Could the character have not been updated and transformed into a well-rounded character? Or could the play have even been relocated to the 21st century, relieving the play from its period trappings?
Ultimately, The Price is watchable, and if great acting is your thing then Suchet’s portrayal of Solomon will certainly entertain. But monologue after monologue does not make a play interesting, and the separation of comedy and drama creates a confused and unfocused play.