Arthur Miller's The Price set for Lyceum

Arthur Miller's The Price set for Lyceum

Family values - John Dove interview

As the Royal Lyceum tackles its fourth Arthur Miller play in five years, director John Dove explains his fascination with the great American playwright to Laura Ennor

By the time he wrote The Price, Arthur Miller was already in his early 50s, an elder statesman of the theatrical world, veteran of the oppressive days of McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, thrice married and widower of Marilyn Monroe. And yet despite this colourful existence he was still able to cast an astonishingly penetrating eye on ordinary lives, ordinary frustrations, worries and relationships.

Two estranged brothers – like Miller, in their early 50s and, also like Miller, born in New York City of immigrant stock to a family that lost everything in the 1929 crash - meet in the soon-to-be-demolished apartment of their late father to have his property valued and divide its worth between them. The conversation that follows is The Price, and in it the brothers are confronted with some difficult home truths and the need to assess the price not just of furniture, but of everything from health, morality, love and money itself, to a life devoted to work or family, self-advancement or self-sacrifice.

The production coming to the Lyceum stage this month is directed by John Dove, who was also behind the last three Miller plays to be staged at the theatre, and who is ‘delighted’ to be returning for a fourth.

It’s becoming something of an annual event, but the continuity runs deeper than that – as Dove is quick to agree that the plays form a kind of series: ‘The Man Who Had All the Luck was about a boy and a girl at the beginning of their lives, just starting, and now we’re moving to the boy and the girl who’ve got to a point of retirement. Before that I was doing All My Sons, which is much more where Dad and Mum are centre stage, facing the son with their crime, if you like. And before that was Death of a Salesman with Willy Lomas and keeping on working aged 60. They’re all in and around the family problem. It could almost be the same family.’

By now, then, Dove is familiar with Miller’s deft grasp of the links between the personal and the political and the economies of love and money, and he’s still finding it all as fresh and as relevant as ever. ‘Arthur’s asking everyone to yank back those values like love and balance,’ he enthuses. The way the playwright does this pulls no punches with regard to the way we place such values on the same scales as monetary values: one of the brothers, a doctor, has been running nursing homes on the side (‘There’s big money in the aged, you know,’ is one of the lines from the play) as well as removing the odd gallstone from an elderly textiles magnate in return for a smart coat or two.

And if that sounds like the funny side of tragic, it’s because it is. Despite the harrowing process the brothers must go through to come to terms with their life choices, their conversation is not without humour, and that comic element is something that Dove is aiming to bring out in the production alongside what he describes as a Hitchcockian sense of drama. ‘It’s an absolute thriller … If you dive into the Miller swimming pool you know the water: you’ve got to swim the right way, but it’s a point to point thriller.’

The Price, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, Fri 15 Jan-Sat 13 Feb.

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