Playhouse Theatre, London – until 3 February 2018
Guest reviewer: Franco Milazzo
Over three decades since it debuted in London’s National Theatre, Glengarry Glen Ross returns to the capital with a starry cast headed by Christian Slater.
David Mamet’s obscenity-strewn script won a Pulitzer Prize in its day and it is easy to see why. Amidst the coarse language, this tale of desperate real estate agents is a testosterone-filled blast from the past.
In director Sam Yates’ hands, this brief but intense play set in the 1980s is like a fine-tuned engine for better and for worse. He lets the tension build up quickly to full throttle but too often maintains it there for far too long; most of the opening scenes ruthlessly grab the attention but the grip weakens as the quick-fire back-and-forth banter wears on at the same tone and speed.
There are surprises all over the park in terms of how the all-male cast tackle the material. Slater is not one of them: he is a natural fit for the arrogant Richard Roma, a tricky Dicky every bit as high on his own supply as his namesake Nixon. Kris Marshall is almost unrecognisable as office manager John Williamson – those used to seeing him in TV roles blander than own-brand cottage cheese will be rocked by the anger and passion he shows here. On the flip side, Rising Damp’s Don Warrington – a man renowned for his deep and slow voice – is left high and dry in his efforts to bring a squeaky American accent to the downbeat and skittish George.
The star player here, though, is Stanley Townsend as the ageing salesman Shelley “The Machine” Levene who fights tooth-and-nail to regain his former glory. From soup to nuts, Townsend commands every scene he appears in with a magnificent performance. He works well with Slater who sets him up with some fine lines but Townsend deserves every plaudit for the way he brings to life a character who goes from the very depths of despair to someone lauding it over his colleagues – before falling right back down again.
To borrow a phrase from the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, Glengarry Glen Ross is as nasty, brutish and short a play as there is, it’s toxic depictions of capitalistic pursuit a necessary reminder of the evil men do in the name of money, success and ego. Yates does well by the script but fails to make his mark on Mamet’s material.
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