It is not often that an actor gives a real tour de force in the theatre but this is indeed the case with David Suchet who steals every scene he is in, giving a superlative tragicomic turn as a rumpled but resilient antique furniture dealer in Jonathan Church’s quietly devastating revival of Arthur Miller’s lesser known 1968 drama The Price (Wyndham’s Theatre) which shows the down-the-decades impact of the Great Depression upon one New York family.
The play is set in the attic of a Manhattan brownstone, the childhood home of Victor Franz, who has invited 89-year-old Russian Jewish furniture dealer Gregory Solomon, to cast his lively appraising eye over the potential spoils, 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 useful. During negotiations Vice’s brother Walter, a successful doctor, who Vincent 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 and what each sacrificed to survive.
This is a work which raises the question of whether the price of something or its value is the most important for us to learn? It is a piece with tendencies towards the talky and static and is certainly not in the forefront of Miller’s work. But it is a poignant, intimate and often heart-wrenching look at the ways we are liberated or trapped by those we love, and like a number of other Miller plays is chiefly concerned with moral accountability, thwarted dreams, familial conflict and history repeating itself.
Simon Higlett’s set offers a glorious cornucopia of clutter with period furniture that towers up the walls and into the ceiling in a gravity-defying representation of the weight and excess of wealth gained and wealth lost.
From the moment we glimpse him shuffling into view in a heavy overcoat and hat, with pinstriped brown suit beneath, wielding a walking cane and old-world, European–accented courtesy, Suchet commands attention as Gregory, the grizzled eccentric and wise veteran of multiple transactions and survivor of many traumas, who has his own demons to conquer, as well as securing the best possible price for the Franz family possessions. Suchet revels in Gregory’s quirks: at one point he peels a hard-boiled egg, prays over it and then insouciantly asks Victor for salt, expertly combining servile kindness and inveterate cunning. It is certainly a performance to cherish!
Brendan Coyle, better known as Mr. Bates in Downton Abbey, is excellent as Victor, who played the dutiful son, putting his ambitions on hold to care for their once-rich father when he was reduced to a shadow of his former self by the Depression. Adrian Lukis is no less impressive as his long-estranged brother, Walter, while Sara Stewart as Victor’s wife Esther is tragically nuanced in its portrayal of a woman whose livelihood is completely at the whim of the feelings and pride of men she cannot influence.
This powerful study of reunion and confrontation has a timeless quality and yields a chest-full of pertinent and painful reflections on the forces that shape us, whether they be familial or financial.
The Price plays at Wyndham’s Theatre, London, until Saturday 27 April 2019.
Box office: 0844 482 5151.Photo: Nobby Clark Last modified: April 6, 2021