- Chris O'Rourke
Nicholas Woodeson in The Price. Image Ros Kavanagh
What price for a life? What is a life worth? What does it amount to? Dust coated furniture, the silent harp, cheap heirlooms cluttering up an attic, dead as gravestones. Even as old resentments remain buried alive. In Arthur Miller’s The Price, two brothers, stuck in their real and imagined traumas, find the wounds that bind still bleed a lifetime later. Proving that if you want to make an indifferent God laugh, tell Him your plans. Plans to be a scientist, doctor, brother, son. To fulfil the American Dream and bask in health, wealth and unending respect. To be a man’s man, a self-made man, a family man. A good guy. Selling off the remains of your soul, along with the trinkets that make up a life.
Simon Delaney in The Price. Image Ros Kavanagh
In Miller’s scrappy yet gambolling script, family and obligation are everything and nothing. Ensuring self-made men become unmade, unless they escape to fashion a life on their own terms. Like successful doctor Walter Franz. Whose brother Victor was left behind to care for their financially strapped father ruined during the Great Depression. An uncaring Cain to Victor’s Abel, Walter destroyed Victor’s chances of being a scientist so that he might pursue his own dreams. Such being the story told by Victor, a police sergeant on the verge of retirement trying to sell the last of the family’s estate. A stickler for fairness in an unfair world, Victor reaches out to the estranged Walter to ensure he receives his due.
Abigail McGibbon in The Price. Image Ros Kavanagh
Meanwhile, wife Esther, one of life’s backseat drivers, has had enough of Victor’s sluggish attitude. Like Mrs Bouquet in a bad suit, Esther is all about keeping up appearances. Worried that her handsome swordsman, who once swaggered like a movie idol, is barely capable of making a decision. Convinced that Victor will be lowballed by the first bid from assessor, Gregory Solomon. A shabby, biblical soul as old as Methuselah and as worldly wise as his surname. The arrival of Walter ensuring any deal hits a snag. Resulting in a battle where truths are outed. Or at least the lifelong lies we tell ourselves that pass for truth.
Abigail McGibbon, Sean Campion and Simon Delaney in The Price. Image Ros Kavanagh
Written in response to the Vietnam war, when it comes to themes, The Price serves up less a half dozen oysters so much as an entire oyster bed, with the occassional pearl or two. Themes director Conleth Hill, perhaps better known for doing a bit of acting, doesn’t tackle so much as wrestle into a wonderful cohesion. Echoing many of Miller’s plays, the ideological, political and economic dynamics that fuel families are in full swing here, particularly fathers and sons and their competing notions of success. Hints of Ayn Rand knocking heads with social responsibility, as do competing and conflicting notions of America and masculinity. If one or other brother wins the occasional round, it’s life that ultimately wins the battle. Having the last laugh at the worldly hopes men set their hearts upon.
Simon Delaney in The Price. Image Ros Kavanagh
Throughout, Hill marshals his theatrical forces to craft a tour de force production. Compositionally, Stuart Marshall’s hulking set, pushing everyone to the front, operates like a fifth character, majestically lit by James McFetridge. Almost stealing the show where it not for Nicholas Woodeson’s masterclass as the stumbling, bumbling Solomon, negotiating like the devil making a deal for your soul. Abigail McGibbon’s Esther and Simon Delaney’s Victor individually and collectively wonderful. Delaney’s cheeky chap, comedy persona disappearing beneath an astonishingly strong performance. The great lie of American classlessness rendered redundant by McGibbon and Delaney’s superbly rendered, New Yawk, working class accents, reinforced by Woodeson’s Jewish lilt. Leaving Sean Campion’s precise speaking, Irish toned Walter looking like he ambled in from another play. His dialect levelled voice, replete with boasts, doing little to endear him initially. Until he takes the gloves off and class lets fly.
Simon Delaney and Nicholas Woodeson in The Price. Image Ros Kavanagh
Under Hill’s assured direction, The Price speaks to the financial and political concerns of today without labouring points or forcing them to fit. Highlighting attitudes that underscore the issues. How much are victims responsible for their choices and their own recovery? What about victim naming, blaming and shaming? Especially when the point to all such things is ultimately pointless. Life too short and you can’t take anything with you. Maybe we need a better way. A better definition of masculinity and family. One thing’s for sure, when it comes to a great night of theatre, The Price is right.
The Price by Arthur Miller, runs at The Gate Theatre until June 3rd.
For more information visit The Gate Theatre.