IF you like your theatre visceral, snappy and machine-gun like in terms of delivery, there is only one show in town. David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. Grab it while you can – it runs until February 3.
Forget the tremendous 1992 film starring a stellar cast (Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris et al) which people of a certain age still wax lyrical about. The play, 34 years young and showing at the Playhouse Theatre, is its equal.
It is the equivalent of theatrical Red Bull. It grabs you for 85 odd minutes – with an interval a third of the way in so as to allow you to draw breath and grab some alcohol or Red Bull – and spits you out at the end slightly bedraggled but better for the experience.
The play, a pared down version of the film, is based upon a group of salesmen who would happily sell their mothers in order to get their next sale, commission cheque or Cadillac (for being top dog). But there is so much more. The play touches upon a whole range of issues as relevant today as they were back in the 1980s. Deceit, brinkmanship, bribery, ageism, criminal behaviour, bullying, testosterone overload and an almighty dollop of bullshit on top. Issues tackled in a whirlwind. Corporate malevolence.
What makes the play so special is the cast who seem to take great delight in being onstage (not always a given).
The deep voiced Stanley Townsend excels as Shelly Levene, a former top dog who is struggling to get on the ‘board’ – the list of top salesmen. It is a spiral downwards (the fewer sales you make, the poorer the quality of leads you get) which Shelly can only halt by giving office manager John Williamson (Kris Marshall) various bungs and a cut of his commission in exchange for better leads.
It seems to have worked, transforming Shelly’s persona as he thinks he has concluded a big sale. But nothing in Mamet’s seedy vision of the American corporate world is quite what it seems.
Townsend’s portrayal of this tragic figure is magnificent – especially in the exchange with Christian Slater’s Ricky Roma when he joyfully describes how he completed the sale. Townsend and Slater seem to be enjoying themselves so much that they have to pause in order to stop themselves bursting into spontaneous laughter. Townsend skilfully talks to the audience as he continues his effusive version of the transforming sale he made – or did not make – the previous day. His face is a joy to observe.
Slater is up there with Townsend in terms of star turns. His is a brilliant portrayal of Ricky Roma – the ‘new’ Shelly Levene. Slick, a motor-mouth, good looking (and knows it) and driven purely by greed and the pursuit of the next sale. In Ricky’s defence, he has put Shelly Levene on a pedestal – he is his role model, his hero. About the only bit of respect on display throughout the play.
The way Slater’s Ricky smooth talks James Lingk (played by Daniel Ryan) in the first act while sitting at adjoining tables in a Chinese restaurant is fabulous. As is the way he then attempts to wriggle away in the second act as Lingk pleas with him to unravel the sale he made the night before.
Throw in great performances from Robert Glenister (a manipulative Dave Mott), Don Warrington (a manipulated and feeble George Aaronow) and Williamson (emotionless and remorseless in the pursuit of money and revenge) and you can see why Glengarry Glen Ross is currently one of the best shows in the West End. Sharp as straight bourbon.
Hats off to director Sam Yates for making it as relevant today as it was some 30 years ago. And of course to author David Mamet.
It is so good I am going back for a second-helping. Maybe a third if I get the chance.
Greedy like all the salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross but it is a play you simply cannot get enough of. Bourbons all round.