Theatre: One thing is certain: life isn't cheap
THE PRICE BRISTOL OLD VIC
Wednesday 07 April 1999
The Franz family's attic, however, contains something considerably more exotic than an "armadillo", "kazoo", or the ever-present "X-ray machine". It contains the life of Victor Franz (Clive Mantle), twisted into bitterness through filial self-sacrifice; the demands of his wife (Susan Wooldridge), longing for him to finally fulfil himself after 28 years with the NYPD; and a lot of furniture to be sold to sharp antiques dealer Gregory Solomon (Bill Wallis). Oh, and being an Arthur Miller play, it contains a hefty dose of inter-brother conflict and the ghost of a father who made a resounding, even overwhelming impression on their lives.
The Price is a bleak sermon for those turning 50. It explores the shaping of lives through one simple, reiterated thought: "There's a price to be paid". Wherever we are when we get to 50, be it a successful surgeon like Victor's brother, Walter (Malcolm Tierney), or a simple man like Victor who failed to fulfil his promise because of self-sacrifice, it is the result of what went before.
The decisions we make always mean that something must go by the wayside - that is the price that has to be paid. It is a simple thought: perhaps too simple to sustain a full-length play on its own.
As a result, this is a play with two distinct parts, the first act dominated by Solomon, the fast-talking, elderly Jewish antique dealer, whom Wallis presents as a kosher Richard Attenborough. It is a marvellously written part, with ample opportunity for comedy interspersed with sharp slivers of pathos, and Wallis hammers at this Carrara marble script like Michelangelo. It is a bravura performance, to which Mantle acts as little more than a feed.
The second act centres on fraternal conflict and the painful ripping off of emotional Band-aids. As the successful brother, Tierney slides mellifluously through the great rolling monologues, a gushing brook of language gliding from his lips with the smooth, Americanised refinement of Alistair Cooke. And then Mantle finally comes into his own in a bubble of rage whose impact is all the greater for its stark contrast with his usual "gentle giant" persona.
The Price is not Miller's most moving or most thought-provoking piece. It makes its point about us being the product of the choices we have made with a dull grind rather than fireworks. But this production is a soundly crafted piece which can proudly display a sign saying "Actors At Work". It's solid, but not stolid.
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