FringeReview UK 2019
Jonathan Church’s revival at Theatre Royal Bath reaches Wyndham’s for a thirteen-week run. It features Simon Higlett’s meticulous attic set, lit by Paul Pyant, with traffic and other sounds wrapped by Mike Walker that includes Matthew Scott’s period-evocative score. Ends April 27th.
And here’s a masterpiece. If the Old Vic’s revival of Miller’s 1980 The American Clock reveals a flawed if brilliant play about the Depression, The Price is his greatest between A View From the Bridge in 1956 and the late Broken Glass from 1994.
Amongst the mini-Miller season this year, this revival’s the most vital and game-changing, with a central performance by David Suchet that joins the list of great comic roles. Jonathan Church’s revival at Theatre Royal Bath reaches Wyndham’s for a thirteen-week run.
Quite why The Price isn’t mentioned in the same breath as his earlier quartet might be answered (spoiler!) in that no-one dies.
They don’t need to. At the point Miller withdrew from death as a conclusion, interest waned. Yet at least two of his greatest plays date from this later phase. It’s pundits whose creative journey with Miller went off, not Miller. And he was never as popular in the U. S. after The Crucible as he’s remained in Europe.
Whatever, critics are making up for it now, with this stunning depiction of opened wounds in wardrobes, set in 1968 in an attic of a brownstone about to be demolished. The brothers Franz – policeman Victor, successful surgeon Walter – confront each other after sixteen years. And over their parents’ old furniture with a dealer touching ninety touching them off. Gregory Solomon, David Suchet’s air-sawing seeker of provenance, closes deal and history in one.
Like The American Clock too, The Price twangs with the sound of a piano sold off by a once-wealthy family. It’s long gone before the play begins, but downstage right a harp stubbornly rests, inviting chords you might pluck to recall lost time.
As Brendan Coyle’s superb replacement Sion Lloyd as Victor enters followed by his wife Esther (Sara Stewart) in her expensive (for them) blue dress the echoes of 1929, and that piano, reverberate round the expensive furniture, the Spanish Jacobean and other once-desirables stached in Simon Higlett’s meticulous attic set. With a circular window and a rough triangle of expanding bric-a-brac proceeding in brown over blue-grey floorboards and along the same-coloured walls. A wardrobe holds a freight of marvellous dresses. It’s sky-lit by Paul Pyant, with traffic and other sounds wrapped by Mike Walker that includes Matthew Scott’s period-evocative score.
The Price naturally suggests so much more, even than the depression, Victor’s sacrifice, the very act of sales and of the necessary meeting of a brothers who’ve not spoken for 16 years.
We soon learn that Victor nearing 50, had left medical college in 1940, 28 years earlier, to look after his once-tycoon father. A request to his now well-heeled brother had merely resulted in a suggestion he ask his cash-strapped father. Later Walter confirms Victor was the brighter student, and there’s an ambiguity whether Victor could have somehow toughed out a college fee, though it’s more than anyone could pay.
Smart Esther’s had enough of penury and urges Victor to get the best price and approach Walter for help. Nearing retirement he can still ask his brother for an admin job sing the science he already has. Now a man known for sensitivity, temperamentally unsuited for police work has tramped a thankless path, arresting 19 in 28 years. If that’s a gauge.
Enter Gregory Solomon, picked out of the yellow Pages. and they are yellow. It emerges he shut up shop three years ago – but can’t resist a call. Beyond this fantastical comedy the circling the refusal to name prices the desire to know provenance and the history attached to it, means we’re in for a long voyage round the furniture. Several items immediately draw his eye: he declares he can readily sell them. Fro the rest. all or nothing, Victor ripostes, that’s the price. Victor wants to hold the harp back, his mother’s. Solomon who notes the cracked board isn’t having that. Here are his Royal Navy papers, discharged 1903; a kind of passport. Suchet and Lloyd circle and bark. Suchet here holds supreme reign. It’s his half, the next is more richly-orchestrated and Lloyd truly comes into his own.
The second act as Adrian Lukis’ Walter arrives is electric with the unspoken, now spoken hurt lifted in strips like plastic surgery between the brothers. Suchet’s Solomon pleads exhaustion at one point when attacked and withdraws. The faint’s a comic feint: he re-emerges periodically. It’s Lloyds’s bouncing off Lukis’ svelte doctor that keeps upending itself. Walter’s had a three-years breakdown, is divorced, is infinitely more humanized, more open now than Victor. But he’s got reasons to seek forgiveness. and reasons to resent Victor’s martyrdom. As revelations of money and heartlessness reveal themselves, and who knows what excoriates the knowers, will Walter’s gambit for love and reconciliation even begin to get to Victor? Lukis manages an emotional journey from buttoned-up doctor to imploring brother on his knees embracing.
Stewart’s Esther returns. Suchet’s old-world charm and sexism throws her in some relief as the one urging Victor to pragmatically accept every belated generosity and tax dodge Walter lays at his feet. Stewart too rises to an arc of warm frustration and bewilderment. In the second act, layer for layer Lloyd matches Suchet’s virtuoso strokes of sheer comedy. Suchet dominates, but Lloyd, pitched in for the last seven weeks really deserves notice after this. Lukis and Stewart are consummate, though everything’s conducted at a range from forte to pianissimo. It’s almost too much, especially with a harp riffing some dusty heaven. It has a cracked board, Solomon declares, but he’s insistent, he’ll pay extra for it. Pauses in denouement and epilogue are theatrical spun-out gold.
This is by any standards an outstanding production, rescuing a classic from attic shadows.