(L-R) Christian Slater (Ricky Roma) & Stanley Townsend (Shelley Levene) - Glengarry Glen Ross at The Playhouse. Photo: Marc Brenner.
Making a timely revival this week at London’s Playhouse Theatre is David Mamet’s hard-hitting and multi-award-winning 1983 play based in the male-dominated and cut-throat world of the American real estate business, Glengarry Glen Ross.
Adapted for the big screen by Mamet himself and directed by James Foley, 1992’s film version featuring the likes of Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey and Ed Harris has since become something of an acting master-class, allowing its cast to revel in their craft as they bring the author’s brilliantly stark and profanity-ridden script to life.
The new London production, featuring a mainly British cast headed up by Hollywood heavyweight Christian Slater, sees its politically incorrect content delivered at an ironically uncomfortable time not unreflective of America’s current capitalist Administration. As such audiences, rather interestingly, seem to be reacting to Mamet’s dramatically striking themes in Sam Yates’ directorial offering in the only way they know how... with plenty of amusement.
The original play is a real story of two halves, with the first taking place in a local Chinese Restaurant and featuring a trio of duologues where four of the salesmen of Mitch and Murray’s real estate Company – between them – demonstrate the whole gamut of emotions intrinsic to a high-pressure sales-force: desperation, bitterness and success.
While Stanley Townsend’s long-in-the-tooth salesman, Shelly Levene, doggedly attempts to persuade/bribe office manager John Williamson (Kris Marshall) to share the newest leads with him, the dominating Dave Moss (Robert Glenister) and submissive George Aaronow (Don Warrington) hold a pity party blaming everyone but themselves for their recent lack of sales – a conversation during which Moss slowly introduces the idea of breaking into the office and stealing the leads.
Meanwhile top salesman and smooth-talking, Ricky Roma (Slater), uses his time in the restaurant to prospect and real-in another sale when he chances upon another vulnerable victim, James Lingk (Daniel Ryan).
Next morning (post-interval) the restaurant is now the sales office, which has duly been turned over, where the personalities introduced to us during Act I flourish in their traits – all except the mysteriously buoyant Shelly Levene.
In this actor’s piece, where one gets to ‘play’ at who can swear the most, the entire company are blatantly enjoying Mamet’s authentic language. Rather than delivered all on one fast-paced level, I would like to have liked to have seen more intimacy and variation in the opening three restaurant scenes but with the need for projection, the acoustic surroundings offered to the un-mic’d cast may dictate otherwise... no such problems during the curse-rich second act! That said, there is still room for the cast to further tighten Mamet’s script where characters constantly over one another; on press night there were several obvious gaps with actors obediently finishing half a sentence only to patiently wait for the interruption.
The film’s outstanding performances, theatrical format and expanded script no doubt make it difficult to bring much originality to Mamet’s masterpiece while resisting the temptation to emulate Hollywood’s acting elite, so credit goes to both Slater and Townsend for cleverly playing with the humour craved by today’s audiences; the same goes for Glenister and Warrington as the bully and the downtrodden. It may be a real sign of the times that seems to have given this play a different feel from Mamet’s original purpose.
Kris Marshall’s naive and slightly Clark Kent-styled office manager works well contrasting nicely with Kevin Spacey’s equivalent on-screen portrayal and, I have to say, one of the stand-out performances for me is Daniel Ryan’s brilliantly played performance as Roma’s latest sales victim, James Lingk. There couldn’t have been one audience member who didn’t want to hug Ryan after he offers Roma his apologies for letting the self-centred top-dog down after Mrs Lingk orders her husband back to the office to cancel their purchase.
(L-R) Don Warrington (George Aaronow) & Robert Glenister (Dave Moss) - Glengarry Glen Ross at The Playhouse. Photo: Marc Brenner.