The Price ****

Another January, another John Dove production of an Arthur Miller play at the Lyceum.  These productions are starting to become a bit of a tradition.  And yet, going by the strength of The Price, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Miller’s play asks some tough questions and it doesn’t give any easy answers.  How important is self sacrifice?  Should one let go of personal dreams in order to assist their family?  How much does a person’s profession define their identity?  And most prominent of all: exactly how much is one’s life worth in dollars?

For a play that is over 40 years old, The Price feels very contemporary.  Put this on a modern set and dress the characters in today’s fashion and it would feel almost naturalistic.  Miller was always suspicious of society’s obsession with financial gain, and though this play may not be one of his more well-known, it’s still filled with rich characters, a tense plot and thrilling dialogue that all add up to a play that makes one look at our fractured relationship with money.

John Dove is proving himself to be a very talented, and insightful, director of Miller’s work.  He has a knack of making Americanisms accessible and is good at conducting words and action that may feel outlandish into believable exchanges.  There isn’t one moment of this production that rings false or insincere.

That is also down to a very solid ensemble of four.  James Hayes’ Gregory Solomon is one of the most colourful performances I’ve seen in a while, a character that seems like the voice of reason but is never 100% trustworthy.  Sally Edwards makes Esther, a character that could come across as shallow and pathetic, into a sympathetic character with a point, and Aden Gillett makes some very good arguments and has some fine moments as Walter.

But the play belongs to the long-suffering Victor.  Valiantly played by Greg Powrie, Victor comes across as a beaten man, taken advantage of by those who are supposed to love him and underappreciated for a job he does well.  And yet, for the entire performance, Powrie plays him as a man of honour.  His drive to do right may serve as the main source of conflict, but his character’s arch is constantly believable.

I also have to give praise to the creative team.  Michael Taylor’s design, along with Jeanine Davies’ lighting, have resulted in a beautiful looking production that looks both realistic and symbolic at the same time, and dialect coach Lynn Bains has assisted the company to not only sound like convincing Americans (for the most part) but has also coached them to use the correct dialect, making for a mostly convincing New Yorkish sound.

The Price may not be a great play (even if it does have great elements), but it is a terrific production.  I found the performance to be both moving and gripping, and it gave a welcome reminder as to why Arthur Miller is considered by most to be one of modern theatre’s titans.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

Playing at the Lyceum until 13 February 2010.

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