Tag Archives: David Mamet

“Glengarry Glen Ross” at the Playhouse Theatre

The American playwright David Mamet has plenty of fans. This Pulitzer Prize-winning work from 1984, filmed in 1992, has lines so famous this revival’s smart advertising campaign quotes them. Until now, I’ve never been a huge admirer, finding Mamet’s themes blunt and his language, while powerful, too brutal. But here, Sam Yates’ direction exposes the author’s subtlety, making his production a terrific show for all.

Three intense duologues open the play, introducing us to Chicago real estate agents and their cut-throat world. The scenes are close studies on the part of Yates and his superb cast. Kris Marshall plays the office manager, who has power over the lists of leads he distributes, and he does well in distancing his character from the other workers. Due to the unfortunate indisposition of Robert Glenister, Mark Carlisle takes up the role of a particularly desperate salesman, and proves impressively up to speed, working well in his scene with Don Warrington. The plots hatched and bargains struck are funny in their transparency but there’s no doubt the stakes are high. It’s the brevity that impresses with this trio of sketches – so much atmosphere and characterisation so very quickly.

The star of the production is the fictional company’s top salesman, Ricky Roma, played by Christian Slater, who convinces as someone who could sell the proverbial brick to a drowning man. Slater’s charisma makes for perfect casting, and his mischievous, arch delivery brings out the play’s wicked humour. But there’s more: the real focus of the play is veteran salesman Shelley Levene, nicknamed “the machine”, and next to his old mentor Slater shows an impressive restraint.

Stanley Townsend gives a superb performance as Levene. Technically brilliant, his understanding of Mamet’s rhythm is marvellous, he gets great laughs but also makes the play moving. The brief mentions of his daughter, like all the women in the play never actually named, creates a powerful emotional undertow. This is “a world of men”, but look how troubled it is. Yates draws out the desperation and pressure underlying these workers’ lives, with a nod to the tradition of Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill. It’s intelligent insight, convincingly delivered, that makes this a revelatory production.

Until 3 February 2018

www.atgtickets.com

Photo by Marc Brenner

“Race” at Hampstead Theatre

In Race, which opened last night at the Hampstead Theatre, playwright David Mamet uses the legal system as a prism through which to examine racism in America. Race centres on the case of a white man accused of raping a black woman. It’s a hard-hitting, foul-mouthed, hilarious affair with the most serious of themes.

This is a huge coup for Hampstead; artistic director Edward Hall is justifiably pleased to give the show its UK premiere. Any work by Mamet is an important event for contemporary theatre writing, and in the must-see category by virtue of his name alone.

And it’s also characteristic Mamet: brilliantly contentious, perversely confrontational, and deliberately provocative. The play is about the lies we tell each other and ourselves about race, set in a legal world whose dialectic consists solely of falsehoods.

The law often makes great theatre; here the legal team of Lawton and Brown, played expertly by Jasper Britton and Clarke Peters, are more than open to a connection with “pageantry”. Overblown certainly, you might pray they are a parody, but their bluntness – constantly mercenary and misanthropic – is a technique to tackle taboos and get howls of laughter.

The key to the play is a new addition to the law firm, Susan, an honours student whose agenda gives rise to the most testing moral questions. Nina Toussaint-White is superb in the role, revealing that in razor-sharp competitions with her elder colleagues her character isn’t at the same professional level. And Toussaint-White conveys a deep pain behind her character’s sleek façade, injecting much-needed humanity into the play.

Mamet’s cynicism is such it occasionally beggars belief. Plot points designed to make us question Susan’s character are clumsy. There’s also the issue for London audiences that, understandably, the focus is very specifically on American society. But these are caveats. Race is never less than thrilling and this production makes a trip to Hampstead essential.

Until 29 June 2013

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Photo by Alaistair Muir

Written 30 May 2013 for The London Magazine

“House of Games” at the Almeida Theatre

David Mamet often writes about professionals, including estate agents, and in the entertaining House of Games it’s the turn of therapists and conmen. Tense and comic in turn, Richard Bean’s version of Mamet’s 1987 film, holds your attention over its 90 minutes, but it fails to really convince.

Nancy Carroll plays Dr Margaret Ford and manages to create a strong stage presence despite problems with the role. Harvard-educated Margaret decides to write a book on conmen but without any preliminary research. Clinical to the point of caricature, she jokes about being Amish, yet runs into an affair with Michael Landes’ charismatic card shark like a doting schoolgirl.

Of course we know that Margaret is going to be tricked. Even if the con is predictable it is fun to watch, mostly because of the team of charming shyster’s she encounters. Trevor Cooper manages to be funny while offensive and John Marquez dim yet appealing.

Despite the casts skills at comedy, director Lindsay Posner injects several moments of suspense, many connected with Margaret’s one time patient Billy. Played superbly by Al Weaver, Billy gets the laughs and then becomes frightening. Combined with Django Bates impressive score there are some highly atmospheric moments.

All the conmen identify themselves as skilled actors. It’s a third profession we are supposed to be thinking about, yet this tempting subtext isn’t pursued sufficiently. Margaret moves from writing science to fiction – so she starts pretending for a living too. Her agent applauds this but it seems a wasted coda and an unsatisfying end that leaves you feeling a little conned.

Until 6 November 2010

www.almeida.co.uk

Photo by Simon Annand

Written 17 September 2010 for The London Magazine