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GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS

Playhouse Theatre, London, Saturday 13th January, 2018

 

David Mamet’s classic play gets an invigorating new lease of life in this snappy revival at the Playhouse.  It’s a top-drawer production that allows the quality of the writing to shine.  Mamet’s naturalistic dialogue, with its interruptions and stichomythia, is peppered with the argot of the characters’ occupation: they are real-estate salesmen, and the script relies on our intelligence and ability to put two and two together to garner what the terms mean.

Stanley Townsend almost steals the show as down-on-his-luck Shelly Levine, getting a new injection of enthusiasm when he makes a big sale.  Townsend’s reliving of the scene in which his clients sign the contract is a scream.  Townsend is a superlative performer and utterly, utterly credible.  In fact, credibility is the watchword of Sam Yates’s production; his direction paces the scenes perfectly, with outbursts, crescendos and moments of stillness.

Kris Marshall is suitably wound-up as office manager John Williamson and there are big laughs from Robert Glenister’s outbursts of profanity as the volatile Dave Moss.  Don Warrington is superb as the inarticulate, unassertive George, while Daniel Ryan elicits our sympathy as a customer trying to revoke a deal.

But the show belongs to Hollywood star Christian Slater in the powerhouse role of hard-selling Ricky Roma.  Slater’s fast-talking but at ease, inhabiting the role exquisitely; Roma is the big fish in this particular pond.  Both the humour and intensity of his performance are accentuated by his trademark circumflex eyebrows and smart-alec smirk.  Expertly supported by a flawless ensemble, Slater’s charismatic presence is magnetic.  Mamet allows us to see the character for what he is, exposing the tricks of the trade, or else Slater would have signing our lives away to all sorts of things.

Chiara Stephenson’s detailed set (a Chinese restaurant, then the guys’ office) grounds the action in its reality.  The play gives us a window into a high-pressure world and, by extension, shows us the dark underbelly of capitalistic pursuits, which tend to lead to corruption and crime.  Also, the play reveals how men are, what they talk about, how they express themselves.  Yes, the play is dated, a period piece, with its references to typewriters and so on, but the racism, the sexism and the way men feel they have to lock horns with each other and compete, are still very much with us.

The brief running time keeps things punchy, condensing the brilliance of the script and the brilliance of the performances into a perfect, highly entertaining piece that still has a lot to say and that remains very funny indeed.  Definitely not past its sell-by.

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Top dog: Christian Slater as Ricky Ross (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

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Toys’ Story

THE MOUSE AND HIS CHILD

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 12th December, 2012

The RSC’s Christmas family show this year is Tamsin Oglesby’s adaptation of Russell Hoban’s 1968 novel for children.   Hoban, I have found, is an acquired taste – and one which I have yet to acquire.  Presented on stage before my very eyes, the similarities with the works of Samuel Beckett are plain to see – and, guess what, I’ve never really taken to Beckett either.

Angela Davies’s set is magnificent; its circles and holes and suspended cotton reels and so on, suggest all at once the cosmos, the cogs and components of clockwork, and also gives us a sense of scale.  The toy and animal characters are the size of human actors, of course – their microcosm is a representation of our world, our society.

It begins with the clockwork toys, the titular Mouse and his Child waking up – or becoming aware – in a toy shop.  Right away we are plunged into Beckettian questions of existence.  The absurdist nature of life soon becomes apparent and runs through the entire piece.  As I said earlier, I’m not a Beckett fan.  We get glimpses of Vladimir and Estragon, and Pozzo and Lucky, for example – even the supporting chorus members are dressed as tramps.

But the material is also familiar in other ways.  I couldn’t stop thinking about A. I. (Artificial Intelligence) in which the constructed character seeks validation and recognition as a living being in his own right – which is itself derivative of Pinocchio.  Indeed, the Mouse and the Child are forced to perform, much as the little wooden boy had to for Stromboli.  In this instance, it’s within a rather avant garde theatre company run by two crows and a parrot, who in turn brought to mind the Crummles from Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby... There is something Dickensian too about the milieu in which the protagonists find themselves.  The baddie, Michael Hodgson as Manny the Rat, has more than a hint of Fagin about him as he despatches his band of rats to steal and scavenge bits and bobs.  The Mouse and the Child long to be self-winding just as Pinocchio yearned to be a real boy.  It’s all a metaphor for growing up and being independent, but also having free will as living beings.

The costumes are inconsistent in their effectiveness.  I couldn’t tell what some of the characters were meant to be; had it not been for the captioning for the deaf, I may never have known that the two cloaked figures with Merseyside accents were supposed to be hawks, but on the whole the production is a visual delight – and an aural one too, thanks to the marvellous musicians who remain on stage and complement the action with cartoon-like sound effects.

I particularly liked Carla Mendonca as the graceful, dignified maternal figure, an elephant on roller skates, and Daniel Ryan as the Mouse makes a warm-hearted Dad.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t warm to Bettrys Jones as the Child.  I found the characterisation too shouty and too strident.  There needs to be moments of cuteness and vulnerability.  Long before the end, I found I didn’t care what happened to him.  David Charles is likeable as a kind of new age hippy weirdo frog, who prophecises doom and success in equal measure, complete with 1960s psychedelic effects. Julia Innocenti provides a neat comic turn as Ralphie, a rat unhindered by his lack of intelligence, and the entire company clowns around energetically.  There is a fight scene to evict the baddies from the doll’s house (like routing the weasels from Toad Hall) that is an orgy of cartoon violence and very funny. Paul Hunter’s direction gives us moments of inventiveness and humour in a scattergun approach.  Not all the gags hit the mark but those that do keep you interested.

Michael Hodgson dominates as the quirky Manny who is cured of his evil compulsions when his plan to burn everyone to death backfires and results in a dose of electro-shock therapy.  This is just one of the many moments of darkness in the piece.  It’s no cute and cuddly adventure and it certainly isn’t twee.  I just wasn’t won over by the material, despite the talent, energy and creativity that went into the performance.

Michael Hodgson (Manny)