The Price

Arthur Miller
Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Bolton Octagon artistic director David Thacker is returning to a playwright with whom he has worked personally and whose work he has been acclaimed for interpreting in the past for the theatre's latest production of The Price by Arthur Miller.

Set around 1964, Victor Franz is a New York cop, now nearly fifty, who sacrificed finishing his education in science in order to look after his father who became a recluse after the recession while his brother Walter went to medical school and became a successful surgeon. Sixteen years after his father's death, the building where he lived is to be pulled down and Victor is forced to sell off the piles of furniture and other possessions that are still there, so he brings in 89-year-old second hand dealer Gregory Solomon to give him a price.

Just as the deal is about to be concluded, Walter, whom he hasn't seen for sixteen years and who hasn't returned his recent calls about the sale of the furniture, turns up unexpectedly. While all seems amicable at first, with Walter making some very generous offers to his brother, old tensions and resentments inevitably arise.

Although this play had a very successful run on Broadway in 1968, it isn't now one of Miller's best-known plays. It strongly betrays Ibsen's influence on Miller as, like many of the Norwegian dramatist's great plays, it takes place at a time when all of the significant events in the story are way in the past and they are about to come to a head, and it takes a family drama and teases out of it wider political and social themes.

Unusually for a Miller play, there is a clear comedy character in Solomon, although he does have plenty of serious moments to give the character depth. For this the Octagon has brought in former Oldham Coliseum and Nottingham Playhouse artistic director Kenneth Alan Taylor, whose charismatic presence lights up the stage whenever he is on it, bringing plenty of humour while keeping the character believable.

As Victor, Tom Mannion doesn't appear to engage fully with the character in the first act, often looking uncomfortable on stage, but he settles into the role much more after the interval with some moments of real engagement. There is a good, solid performance from Suzan Sylvester as Victor's wife Esther and an excellent performance from Colin Stinton as wealthy but unhappy Walter.

Thacker's production has many moments of great humour and tension, but there are times when the pace feels very slack and the delivery of the dialogue quite hesitant, which makes the whole play seem overlong and wordy. Once again he has configured the Octagon's acting space as an in-the-round stage, which works well here to focus the audience's attention on the unfolding drama and on Patrick Connellan's appropriately cluttered set design, although the gridded ceiling looks a little odd and serves little purpose.

This looks like a production where all of the elements are there for a powerful piece of theatre but they haven't yet quite come together into a satisfying whole. Perhaps the bumps will be smoothed out during the run, but as it stands it is an interesting production but not one that really sets the stage alight.

Running to 2nd April 2011

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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