Tag Archives: Wil Johnson

Sales and Fails

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.

L-R Mark Benton (Shelley Levene) & Nigel Harman (Ricky Roma) - Glengarry Glen Ross UK Tour - Photo By Marc Brenner (2289)

Sold! Mark Benton and Nigel Harman (Photo: Marc Brenner)

 

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Clear Lear

KING LEAR

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 24th May, 2016

 

Direct from Manchester’s Royal Exchange, this production of Lear jets into Birmingham.  It’s a satisfyingly traditional affair; the setting is the Dark Ages, the stage a stone circle.  Huge structures tower around it.  Signe Beckmann’s design is both evocative and versatile; the circular acting space serves as royal palace and blasted heath.  The costumes too convey the period.  We are in Game of Thrones territory and the characters behave badly accordingly.

Don Warrington makes a stately entrance as the eponymous monarch, in Jon Snow furs, but it’s soon apparent that he has already lost a marble or two, with his irrational game for the throne.  Whichever of his three daughters loves him best, will get the largest share of the kingdom.  It’s a lesson for all those with kids – don’t give them their inheritance while you’re still alive; they will only treat you abominably!  Warrington is powerful as the king losing his faculties and he is at his best, not when he is howling with grief, but in the quieter moments of clarity and self-awareness.  That really hits home.  Nowadays, if a playwright wants to write a piece about dementia, there is plenty of research material and you can probably get funding too; Shakespeare works purely from observation and I wonder who it was that he observed in order to depict the condition so accurately…

Philip Whitchurch is magnificent as the Earl of Gloucester – his journey is as devastating as Lear’s.  The blinding scene is a shocking slice of Grand Guignol, deliciously gruesome – director Michael Buffong should use that energy and ‘attack’ in other scenes; the pacing is somewhat pedestrian at times, making me long for judicious cuts – of the text, I mean, not the cast!

Fraser Ayres makes an enjoyable villain as the bastard Edmund and I also like Thomas Coombes’s rather flamboyant Oswald.  The Fool (Miltos Yerolemou) seems a little too sorrowful right from the off – he first appears as Matt Lucas in a Robert Smith wig – even his best japes are tinged with sadness.  He ends up like a bedraggled Miriam Margolyes – before his disappearance from the action.  Rakie Ayola and Debbie Korley are suitably nasty as evil bitches Goneril and Regan, while Norman Bowman’s Cornwall lends a Scottish lilt to the dialogue.  You wouldn’t want to endure the hospitality of any of them.

Alfred Enoch throws himself around as Edgar, disguised as ‘Poor Tom’, Wil Johnson’s Kent is suitably noble, and there is strong support from the likes of Sarah Quist and Sam Glen in ensemble parts.  Atmosphere is created in abundance by Johanna Town’s lighting and Tayo Akinbode’s sound design – distorted winds underscore turbulent thoughts.

On the whole, it’s an admirable production, a clear and straightforward handling of the tragedy that does not rely on gimmicks.  Excellently presented, it does however lack a certain something, a certain spark, to keep you gripped for its three-and-a-half hours.

Don Warrington (King Lear) Photo Jonathan Keenan (1)

Don Warrington (Photo: Jonathan Keenan)