BWW Review: GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, Richmond Theatre
It is over 35 years since David Mamet's scorching critique of the male ego and the dangers of capitalism debuted at the National Theatre. Glengarry Glen Ross went on the win the Pulitzer Prize and an Olivier. In 2017, it was revived for a successful West End run, directed by Sam Yates and starring a brilliant Christian Slater. Yates' visceral, powerful and profanity-laden production is now on a nationwide tour and comes to Richmond Theatre this week.
The play follows a group of Chicago estate agents working in the early 1980s, desperately trying to close the deal on two estates: Glengarry Estates and Glen Ross Farms. The cut-throat firm they work for has a brutal league table where the agent who gets most deals wins a Cadillac and the bottom two get the sack. The production is an exploration of morality, toxic masculinity and a desperation to get a sale at any cost.
The first half, set in an oppressive Chinese restaurant, feels a little stilted, with three rapid scenes which serve to introduce the characters and the ruthless environment in which they operate. The second half, set in the office, is more successful. As the men deal with a break-in at the office, there is exposure of a clinical starkness as morally corrupt and emotionally bankrupt behaviour becomes clear.
Nigel Harman plays the smooth-talking Ricky Roma, a man bristling with machismo and patter. Harman is suave, in a suitably greasy kind of way, along with showing unshakeable confidence and bristling anger, but lacks some of the anxiety inevitably hidden within the character.
As Shelley Levine, Mark Benton is very good as the has-been salesman, anxious and panicking about losing his touch and therefore his livelihood. When Levine loses what he thought was a brilliant sale, Benton shows a very physical embodiment of this desperation; his shoulders sag, his eyes droop and his voice drops in volume.
Fellow agent Dave Moss, played by a furious Denis Conway, is a seething mass of frustration. He gets so worked up that he seems on the verge of a heart attack. James Staddon is very believable as the duped client, showing rising panic that his money has gone because he trusted Roma's persuasive silver tongue.
The dialogue is heavy with expletives, but the style of the piece makes them sound stylised, rather than simply offensive. What is less successful in places is the delivery of Mamet's script; his sharp and staccato dialogue is tricky for any actor to get right and here the pacing sometimes suffers. Some of the rapid-fire conversations and arguments come across as stilted and forced. Some of the American accents are not always completely successful either.
Chiara Stephenson's fantastic set design has incredible attention to details; the sterile Chinese restaurant of the first act is bedecked with paper lanterns and red banquettes. However, it is the office set of the second act that is utterly immersive; from the ceiling tiles stained with cigarette smoke, to the smeared windows and cardboard boxes piled in corners, you can almost smell the stale coffee and perspiration.
There are inevitable comparisons with this play and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman; it does not have the intensely tragic elements of Miller's play, but the themes of desperate men living on the edge and the stark exposition of the illusion of the American dream are just as tightly constructed. There is no happy ending for any character, just a mass of rage and moments of despair.
This may be one of Mamet's strongest plays, but it is not quite one of its strongest revivals. However, there is plenty to enjoy and abhor in equal measure.
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner