David Mamet’s sharp satirical play about real estate and the men who follow leads to coerce the lesser-off to spend money they don’t have on plots of land has a timely revival in the West End, this time under the direction of Sam Yates.
It’s an economical but coarse play, with the earthy language you might expect from cut-throat business conducted in restaurants or across kitchen tables furnished with shop-bought cakes masquerading as home-baked.
Act One is set in a Chinese restaurant in Chicago, as we watch conversations between three pairings, introducing our core ensemble.
Shelly Levene (Stanley Townsend) was once a great salesman whose name always headed the firm’s results sheet, but he hasn’t delivered in a long while, and dud salesmen only get the dud leads; he tries to persuade office manager John Williamson (Kris Marshall) to help, but John is tough and hard, cynical and inflexible, and without the readies in advance he won’t give the old man a break.
Slightly later in the day, as the red lanterns start to give off a bit of light, and the sun outside sets, Dave Moss (Robert Glenister), a tough and jaded cookie, has a proposition for his more timid colleague, George Aaronow (Don Warrington), which moves from the theoretical to a practical plan to rob the firm and furnish the competition. George seems caught in a sophisticated trap as a supposed accessory.
And in the evening, confident and smug Richard Roma (Christian Slater) strikes up a chat with James Lingk (Daniel Ryan), a potential lead who can be played from the insecurities of his life to make a ‘wise’ investment. Lingk, a man who probably has never taken a risk beyond taking off his coat on a mild day, is easily persuaded by sex talk and a concentration on his insecurities.
After a rather lengthy interval for a noisy set change, Act Two is set in the sprawling office in which the salesmen sweat for their closures and the chance to progress up the chalk board which records the money they make.
Levene is full of an impossible deal he closed that morning, but the office has been robbed, and a cop is on site to tease out the culprit, which means each salesman gets their time out in the main room while others are under interrogation. Roma has a visit from Lingk, who has slept on his decision and prompted by his cautious wife, wants out of his contract. Tempers fray and unwise words are said.
Mamet’s gift in this play is in making the unlikeable likeable, and in making pauses, interjections, and profanities a natural part of character speech, making those characters believable. Some actors work better with this than others; Marshall and Glenister are especially good, but Warrington’s accent wanders a bit and Townsend takes a while to warm to his part (but does well in Act Two). I liked Slater’s outer calm which cracks in the office as he kicks the furniture, and his self-assuredness, but he doesn’t feel like a Hollywood star above the group of actors he is with; instead, he fits in without trying to snatch the attention.
Daniel Ryan is fine as Lingk, and Oliver Ryan makes the most of an investigator who clearly despises the salesmen and their setting. The ending of the play, too, is a good one, and I’d forgotten it, having seen the film version some years ago and having missed the last stage revival.
Glengarry Glen Ross continues until the 3rd February 2018.