Review: The Price, Royal Lyceum

The Price *****,Royal Lyceum

TOWERING over the stage of the Royal Lyceum, mountains of furniture dwarf the four performers of The Price, Arthur Miller's late-Sixties hit about two brothers arguing over their dead father's belongings.

It's not junk either, but solid, dependable stuff. And for Victor (Greg Powrie), the New York cop who stayed at home to look after his dad, an old man humbled by the Wall Street crash of 1929, the few hundred bucks it might fetch is a price worth getting.

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His wife Esther (Sally Edwards) would rather he haggle over it with the old Jewish assessor Solomon (James Hayes) – she's just killing time until Walter takes his retirement from the force and the money would liberate them. Solomon isn't so much about the haggling however, he wants stories and to find out the furniture's worth.

It is a beautifully poised piece of drama, with Powrie enormous in his role. Childlike as he explores this half-remembered room, embittered and battled under Esther's remonstrations, he becomes all sturdy emphasis – clearly put on for show – as he tries to get Solomon to name a price.

Not until the arrival of Aden Gillett as Victor's brother Walter, who left home to study and become a rich surgeon, does it all begin to get much depth, however. Not that you notice as director John Dove refuses to let his actors run away with the obvious lines and laughter points.

Instead they take time to build up background tension. Rather than an obvious screaming row, Victor and Esther argue in a half whisper, knowing they will be walked in on at any moment. Solomon could be a glib caricature, but Hayes makes him a real character, faltering in his doddery old way.

Gillett, when he does arrive, oozes smarm and that smug, supercilious air that brothers can so annoyingly take with each other. As Victor and Walter battle over the truth of their past – and the prices they have both had to pay for their father's failings – Esther expands and pulls on what the two brothers are saying.

It is Edwards' understated way of switching the focus between the two that is key to the success of the production, making it as much a simple domestic fight as it is an engaging debate about family and loyalty in modern times.

And there is no doubting that these are very modern times indeed.

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This might be the attic of a soon-to-be demolished Brownstone building in 1968 New York, but the sense of a society out of touch with its past – and let down by those it trusted to be infallible – is very much of the here and now.

Above them, the furniture looms and threatens to swamp them. Built to last by a society which wasn't, it is a constant reminder of the permanence which has been lost.

Run ends February 13