Following a sold-out run at the Theatre Royal Bath, Jonathan Church’s 50th-anniversary revival of one of Arthur Miller’s lesser-known plays transfers to the West End with the same superb cast, including Poirot’s David Suchet and Downton Abbey’s Brendan Coyle.
Suchet plays elderly furniture dealer Solomon and has the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment he staggers on stage – shabby, frail and virtually unrecognisable from his sharp-suited Poirot. Brendan Coyle is his customer: Victor, a New York cop who is finally getting around to selling off his late father’s furniture. He and his wife also dust off their decades-old grudge towards his estranged brother; Victor dropped out of college to take care of his bankrupt father, while Walter stuck with his studies and became a rich surgeon.
Solomon soon perks up, almost dancing around the stage as he shrewdly sizes up his taciturn client and the attic of junk. Coyle’s performance is subtler and quietly powerful. Neither of them wastes a word of Miller’s deliciously funny, poignant script.
No sooner has a deal been struck than the estranged brother strides in. It turns out suave, slippery Walter’s life isn’t an unmitigated success, but he still cannot understand why his brother feels aggrieved. The tight knot of family resentment unravels as we hear Walter’s side of the story and realise Victor has always been the author of his own destiny. “We do what we want to do,” he admits.
Adrian Lukis also puts in an arresting turn as suave, slippery Walter, while Sara Stewart crackles and snaps with frustration as Victor’s lonely wife Esther, who uses alcohol as a crutch. Set designer Simon Higlett makes the Wyndhman’s huge stage seem claustrophobic by cramming it with furniture. It even dangles over their heads, emphasising how the characters are hemmed in by the decisions of the past.
“It’s a farce, a goddamn farce” shrieks Esther as the tension ratchets up, but this isn’t: The Price is an ordinary tragedy, and one that has stood the test of time.
The Price is at Wyndham’s Theatre until 27 April 2019