GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS
Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 21st February, 2019
Having enjoyed this production during its London run, I am delighted to catch it again on tour with a new cast. David Mamet’s sweary piece about the cutthroat world of real estate offers plenty of opportunity for fine character work and this new company does not disappoint. The short first act is comprised of three separate duologues in a classy Chinese restaurant, and here we meet the main players.
Mark Benton (currently enjoying huge success in Shakespeare & Hathaway) is faded salesman Shelly Levene, desperate to claw his way back to the top of the Salesman of the Month board. Benton is superb; we actually feel some measure of sympathy for the man as he struggles to regain his glory days in this very dirty game.
Top of the board is Ricky Roma, a very handsome Nigel Harman, of EastEnders fame. He is top of this food chain, a predator, and it’s a pleasure to watch him at work – just as we might enjoy the shark in Jaws chomping its way through the cast. Harman gives us Roma’s skill at manipulation, his charm and his arrogance, but the sparks really fly when he loses his rag.
These two are supported by a tight company. Wil Johnson’s increasingly despairing George; Scott Sparrow’s distant Williamson; Zephryn Taitte’s rough and tough detective… James Staddon is almost understated as Lingk, Roma’s latest customer/victim, unable to stand up for himself against the barrage of Roma tricks. Denis Conway makes a strong impression as the angry and aggressive Dave. You want toxic masculinity? Throw in some problematic remarks about race and you get the measure of how distasteful this milieu is.
Mamet makes great use of stichomythia – the timing is impeccable – to build up natural speech rhythms. He punctuates the argot of the profession with the copious use of profanity. The men throw words at each other like punches – when they’re not trying to dominate proceedings with some anecdote or philosophising. The relentless effing and jeffing adds to the intensity and also the humour of the exchanges. It all adds up to a compelling piece of theatre. Definitely not an advertisement for capitalism, this play is a chance to see actors at the top of the game, delivering an electrifying script and reminding us, because apparently some people still need reminding, that greed is not good, and financial gain at the cost of one’s compassion is never a price worth paying.