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A Price too high to pay in terms of enjoyment



Review by Paul Nelson

ARTHUR Miller is one of America's most distinguished playwrights, though in my book he does not come near the top five, my list being headed by Lillian Hellman.

On examining why this should be so, I find the construction of his plays to be dated, they trudge slowly along and cry out for a director to galvanise them.

Typical is The Price, currently on show at the Apollo.

It first emerged in 1968, though that does not necessarily point up its dated faults; rather it shows the necessity of having an imaginative director, which the present production lacks.

The slow, earnest quality of the writing is unaided from the front and the evening is heavy going.

The play strongly points out Miller's pet themes, loyalty and honour to family, insecure relationships and business success or failure. Here we have the competitiveness of two brothers examined under the Miller microscope.

The successful businessman, on the one hand, the plodding cop about to retire, on the other.

Their relationship, never a strong one, with always an undercurrent of wariness, finally cracks. Their meeting should and could have been avoided, the subsequent clash between the two is therefore contrived and unnecessary.

The catalyst for all this is the selling up of the junk in the attic of the family home on the death of their father. Both profess not to want any of it and both are ready to accept the low offer for the job lot, but as they go through the effects with an elderly but sharp Jewish dealer, the possibility that there might be something worth more than sentimental value comes up, and their sentiments about the belongings bubbles into their feelings about each other.

Workmanlike as the play is, it never really grabs the audience and one wonders is that the fault of the performances or the director? The truth is, it lies somewhere between the two.

As the oddly named Victor (he isn't), Larry Lamb has to present a man of action due for retirement and keen not to make waves. Passivity has become his mode of behaviour and this does not help the play or the actor.

Playing an inactive man of action needs some sort of superhuman ability and my sympathies go to Mr Lamb and my congratulations for tackling the part. It is not the actor's fault the role does not pay off.

Warren Mitchell, who plays the dealer, Solomon, has a much clearer path to tread.

He finds irresistible the temptation to emphasise the heavier Jewish lines, and getting his laughs in, whilst delighting his fans, disrupts the smoothness of the play's progress.

It is left to Des McAleer, as successful brother, Walter, to energise the evening, which he does with a remarkable degree of ability, indeed, without his sureness of character, the play would have been difficult to sit through, so prosaic is it.

Neither is the play helped by the set, an attic room in a New York brownstone in which all the furniture has been hurled as by a centrifuge around three of the walls, the fourth wall having missed this splattering.

The junk makes way to two armchairs and a gap for the action to take place giving the set the air of a rehearsal room.

To put my impression of the evening in a nutshell, at two and a half hours the price is too high, it is a heavy plod through a sticky plot.

The Price by Arthur Miller, Directed by Sean Holmes, Design by Anthony Lamble, Lighting designed by Simon Bennison, Sound design Mike Thacker. WITH: Larry Lamb (Victor), Sian Thomas (Esther), Warren Mitchell (Solomon), Des McAleer (Walter). Presented by Tricycle London Productions and ACT Productions in association with Matthew Mitchell at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1. Tickets 0870 890 1101

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