Glengarry Glen Ross at the Playhouse Theatre review – ‘a polished revival’
Written in 1983, David Mamet’s lancing of American masculinity and capitalism feels more an indictment than ever. Glengarry Glen Ross’ team of real estate salesmen inhabits a world where one’s manliness is measured in terms of success. It’s a cutthroat existence, where the only thing that matters is the deal. It doesn’t matter what methods you employ to seal it– flattery, truth-massaging, outright lies– what matters is that the contracts get signed and the money ends up in the bank. Theirs is a world steeped in casual racism and homophobia, where wives are at best impediments and other men’s vulnerabilities are ripe for exploitation.
Sam Yates’ polished production takes a while to find its feet. The opening duologues are a bit stiff, but they’re necessary building blocks for what’s to come as a robbery at the office piles the pressure on these already desperate men.
The cast quickly gets to grips with Mamet’s choppy tectonic dialogue. Yates has assembled quite a team here. Christian Slater plays the vulpine Ricky Roma with a razor wire smile. He’s a weapon on legs, all tongue and teeth, with a slightly hollow quality that makes him all the more dangerous – though there’s little sense of any underlying insecurity to him..
Slater has a particularly strong rapport with Stanley Townsend, as Shelly ‘the machine’ Levene, a man determined to prove he’s still got what it takes. He lights up when he thinks he’s got his groove back and the scene in which the pair buddy up to con a buyer out of cancelling his cheque is a delight. There’s strong work too from Robert Glenister and Don Warrington – the cast lob expletives around like tennis pros and the tension of the last long scene is handled with precision.
Chiara Stephenson’s set is striking and rich in detail, impressively transforming from a red lantern-bedecked Chinese restaurant complete with fish-tank, to a convincingly grim sales office, recently ransacked and harshly lit, with uneven ceiling tiles and an ashtray-and-coffeepot aesthetic.
While Yates hints at the desperation – and terror – that drives these characters, it's far more understated than it was in the 1992 film version. The sweat you just know is pooling beneath their shirts, the appalling fragility of these men’s shells: you glimpse these things occasionally, but only occasionally. Townsend’s just a bit too robust, Slater a little too slick.
While there’s something wearying about seeing yet another West End stage filled with men, their issues and their egos – maybe if we started giving women's stories the same space and weight we might go some way to remedying this mess – this is a potent and dismayingly timely revival. “We’re a dying breed,” laments Roma, towards the end. How wrong he was. These salesmen didn’t die, they mutated.