Playhouse Theatre, London – until 3 February 2018
Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet’s concise study into the snake-pit of commission fueled property sales, is as relevant today as it when it opened 33 years ago. In a Chicago real estate office, men plead and hustle as they focus only on closing deals, no matter the human price.
Sam Yates’ production is built around a tight, stellar cast.
Camel coated Christian Slater (who bears more than a hint of Tony Blair in his appearance) is Ricky Roma, the alpha-male of the pack. Canny and mercenary, Roma’s senses and reflexes are razor sharp. Not only can he sniff out a potential sale across the banquettes of a Chinese restaurant (with a convincing turn from Daniel Ryan as James Lingk, the hapless john) he’s two steps ahead of the aggrieved Lingk the next day when he appears at the office to exercise his cooling-off option.
Throughout, the playwright’s genius shines through as much as in what is not said, as what has been scripted. Mamet only hints at the characters’ outside lives with his play cruelly entertaining us in our ringside seats as we watch men crumble in the pressure cooker of the deal.
At the aged end of the spectrum are Stanley Townsend’s Shelly ‘The Machine’ Levene and Don Warrington’s grey-haired, wizened Aaronov. Glengarry Glen Ross will always draw comparisons with Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman and here it is Levene who is the realtors’ Willy Loman, a man so desperate for a lead that his once canny judgement leads him into catastrophe. Aaronov by contrast is almost a spent-force. Perhaps once upon a time he might have closed deals, but in Warrington’s artful interpretation we see a pathos-infused ineptitude.
Robert Glenister is Dave Moss, who brings an angry fire to his picture of a man who would happily contemplate incriminating his colleagues in pursuit of lining his own pockets, while as the youthful company-man, Kris Marshall is John Williamson, overseeing the leads and the deals and with a disquietingly accurate knack for sniffing out the poor performers in the team. Williamson shares Roma’s instincts, but combines them with a dispassionate, clinical ruthlessness. He may be the most principled employee of the firm, but he’s unquestionably the least empathetic.
Yates’ direction of his ensemble is tight, amidst a fast-paced script that allows little room for interpretation. Chiara Stephenson’s set comprising the Chinese eatery in act one and the men’s trashed office in the second half supports the narrative with an authentic detail.
The tragic essence of the play is that Mamet’s men are everymen, defining an ugliness of the human condition that is probably timeless. In an evening that is more American Nightmare rather than dream, Glengarry Glen Ross is an ugly story, beautifully told.
Runs until 3rd February 2018Photo credit: Marc Brenner