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.