GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS
Reviewed – 10th November 2017
“this is a play that hinges on the language – a snappy mix of the toxic and intoxicating”
Written nearly thirty-five years ago, David Mamet’s play charts two days in the lives of four desperate real estate agents who unscrupulously engage in a number of unethical, illegal acts – lies, flattery, bribery, threats, intimidation and burglary – to coax unguarded clients into buying undesirable real estate. The world premiere at the National Theatre was acclaimed as a triumph of ensemble acting. In this revival at the Playhouse, directed by Sam Yates, the accolade still rings true with a first rate cast headed by Christian Slater. Although the word ‘headed’ is a slight misnomer – it is very much an ensemble piece.
Each character is as intrinsic as the next to the narrative flow, which makes this a difficult review to write, as fifteen minutes into the first act the show is brought to a halt when one of the actors collapses on stage. For forty minutes the audience wait while the safety curtain remains lowered. Eventually Slater arrives onstage to announce that the show will go on, with the understudy reading in for the actor. The cast continue with gusto, but one can’t help feeling that the momentum has ebbed ever so slightly. Even if one can’t see it in the performances, it is there in one’s perception of them.
But allowances aside, this is a play that hinges on the language – a snappy mix of the toxic and intoxicating. What is remarkable in the writing, and the performances, is the way it is clear that the bullishness, the pugilistic barrage of insults thrown at each other, the lies and the cajoling, is all a veneer. The outward depiction is that of masculinity to the extreme, but what we sense is the struggle, the vulnerability and the resignation to the fact that the game might be over.
The first half introduces the characters to us through three short scenes set in a plush Chinese restaurant (design by Chiara Stephenson). Kris Marshall is unrecognisable as he takes on the role of the dispassionate office manager, refusing to yield to the pleas of the older, yet junior, Shelly Levene – the past-its-sell-by-date old timer who yearns for the good ol’ days. Stanley Townsend evokes his exhausted hope and fragile nostalgia.
It is after the interval that the play comes into its own though. We have already been introduced to Slater’s snake-like Ricky Roma, but here he shifts up a gear, lifting the action with it. Probably the most assured yet two-dimensional character. You instantly know not to trust his smile, yet when he does launch into an explosion of insults and expletives you are still gleefully taken aback. It is invigorating to watch. Mamet’s text is savage, yes, but also laced with biting comedy.
It is a shame, then, not to witness the acclaimed Robert Glenister, to my mind one of our finest stage and screen actors. We wish him well and look forward to him stepping back onto the stage. As they say, the show goes on, and this one will.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Marc Brenner
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS
is at the Playhouse Theatre until 3rd February 2018