Tag Archives: Playhouse Theatre

“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


Photo by Marc Brenner

“The Kite Runner” at the Playhouse Theatre

The 2003 novel, by Khaled Hosseini, upon which this play is based, is a tear-jerking page-turner that’s enjoyed huge sales. This welcome stage adaptation follows its success with a second outing in the West End. Using its narrator Amir’s life – and getting the first plaudit out quick, this is a role David Ahmad excels in – it’s a family story, with plenty of guilt and a little redemption, combined with the recent history of Afghanistan. It’s full of big themes but, while not belittling any of them, remains a good old-fashioned yarn.

Amir’s friendship with his servant and playmate Hassan is efficiently conveyed. Andrei Costin does well with a character who’s little more than a blank slate – it’s Amir’s memories of him – distorted by remorse – that we see. Even in the peaceful Kabul of the 1970s there are troubles – caused by the teenage psychopath Assef (Bhavin Bhatt). Of equal import is Amir’s relationship with his father, satisfyingly explored and with a sterling performance from Emilio Doorgasingh, who reveals the character with charisma.

Taking the lead from Matthew Spangler’s clever adaptation, director Giles Croft works at a cracking pace. The story grips so much that the play feels like escapism, so that grim moments – and there are plenty – shock. Theatrical touches, and music performed by Hanif Kahn, are restrained and never distracting.

Amir emigrates to America, follows his dream to become a writer and gets married. This isn’t quite as interesting and feels rushed. But there’s good work again from Doorgasingh. Just as Amir’s guilt about being a “disappointing son” starts to seem self-indulgent he gets the chance to “be good again”. Family secrets are revealed on a dangerous return trip to Afghanistan. The pace doesn’t pick up as much as it could, but the story is powerful and Hosseini’s use of coincidence gives his narrative a self-consciously epic feel.

The Kite Runner has the heavy weight of exposing terrorism in action – upon Amir’s return, Assef is revealed as a Taliban leader. Care and bravery are taken over many emotive issues and scenes of sexual violence are carefully depicted (the show isn’t comfortable family viewing). Despite some structural flaws, the power of stories and theatre to take us behind news headlines and show a common humanity feels, regrettably, more important than ever. Any desire for a deeper understanding is consoling in itself.

Until 26 August 2017


Photo by Irina Chira

“1984” at the Playhouse Theatre

After a successful tour and sell-out run at the Almeida, Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 has arrived in the West End, opening last night at the Playhouse Theatre. It’s a slick affair, all 101 uninterrupted minutes of it, right down to the marketing – rave reviews outside are censored and tickets are on sale for £19.84.

This truly superb adaptation of a classic text is faithful to the original, full of insight and presents a clear interpretation for us to consider. Icke and Macmillan prioritise the appendix to the novel, The Principles of Newspeak, to highlight the text’s status as an historic document read by people in the future.

The show starts with a kind of book club. Anachronistically, our hero (I use the term unreservedly), the ‘author’ Winston Smith, is present and Big Brother looms large. Those discussing the book segue into characters from the story. Orwell has so many ideas, important ones but often abstract, so to extract the drama needed to create a gripping play is an accomplishment. Atmosphere rather than plot is the key and this high-tech production delivers. The set full of surprises, live video work, superb sound and lighting design make this a visceral experience. You’ll want to calm down in a quiet room afterwards.

Not Room 101 of course. The location where the tyrannical regime tortures dissenters is our final destination. From the moment Winston becomes a ‘thought criminal’ to his capture, the play is appropriately, uncomfortably, powerful and not for the squeamish. The way Big Brother manipulates Winston’s fears is both moving and as powerful as Orwell intended it to be. It’s also wonderfully theatrical – cleverly engaging the audience.

The performances are smooth. Sam Crane plays Smith as confused and petrified from the start (well before any mention of rats) and escalates his performance into something remarkable. His love interest is played by Hara Yannas, who perfectly embodies a distinct kind of rebelliousness. And the rest of the ensemble, including a spookily commanding villain in Tim Dutton’s O’Brien, is well drilled. Icke and Macmillan, who shared the direction, evidently make a superb team.

Until 23 August 2014


Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 9 May 2014 for The London Magazine