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The Price by Arthur Miller at Bolton Octagon

Published by: Caroline May on 14th Mar 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May
Octagon Theatre Bolton - The Price by Arthur Miller - production photo 15_low res[1].JPG

If you want a director who can really be said to be in touch with the intentions of a writer, then the Octagon’s artistic director David Thacker has more right than most to claim a special understanding of the work of legendary American playwright Arthur Miller, having collaborated with Miller for over 20 years while staging many productions of his work.

The Price, originally produced in 1968, is set more or less contemporaneously, but the drama has all taken place over 30 years earlier.  Victor Franz, a New York policeman on the brink of retirement, is clearing out the old family apartment because the building is about to be demolished.  The piles of furniture and bric-à-brac have languished there unused for years, a crumbling monument to the Franz family’s wealth and status before the 1929 Crash.  However the dealer who arrives to bid for the residuary estate of Victor’s long-dead father causes Victor, his wife Esther and estranged brother Walter to ask themselves the difficult question: what price can you put on a man’s life? 

With its contained setting, real-time playing and cast of four, The Price is like an intricate piece of chamber music for a quartet of virtuoso players.  David Thacker has assembled an amazing cast that is every bit as good on the stage as it promises to be on paper.

Playing Esther, Victor’s dissatisfied dipsomaniac wife, is Suzan Sylvester who won an Olivier award 20 years ago as the flighty Catharine in Miller’s earlier masterpiece, A View From the Bridge.  Moving on a generation, Suzan Sylvester plays the role with absolutely no self-pity or vanity.  Esther’s flouncing fits, sarcastic put-downs and two-piece suit call to mind a State-side Sybil Fawlty.

RSC actor Tom Mannion makes Victor a benign but impotent presence.  Having lived a life of self-sacrifice, there is definitely a hint of the saint and martyr about him; some of the broken old bits of furniture in the apartment have more animation and self-determination than Victor.  Thus Colin Stinton as his more worldly and successful brother Walter hardly has to assert any of the cold ruthlessness of which his character is accused to appear dynamic and vibrant next to Victor.

And as the comic relief, local legend Kenneth Alan Taylor gives a star turn as the eccentric elderly antique-dealer Gregory Solomon, who proudly proclaims: “I am registered, I am licensed, I am even vaccinated”.

Patrick Connellan’s in-the-round design crucially establishes a bi-polar sense of the items of furniture, ornaments and clothing heaped up round the stage - property that was clearly once beautiful and valuable but which now amounts to little more than salvage purely because of its social and historical context.

An excellent production that is a credit to the Octagon’s artistic team.

The Price is on at Bolton Octagon until Saturday 2 April 2011
Tickets: from £9.50
Eves: Mon-Sat @ 7.30pm
Matinees: Fri 11, Wed 23, Sat 26 March @ 2pm
Box Office: 01204 520661



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