DAVID Mamet’s literary American masterpiece ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ comes to the Alex in its entire West End splendor – a brilliant cast – outstanding sets from Chiara Stephenson and powerful direction from Sam Yates who truly understands the journey the writer wants to take us on.
It shows us the raw underbelly of the nasty world of American real estate back in the hay day of the 1980s before the big crash came.
Mamet writes from real life experience as he himself tried his hand at real estate in his younger days. The ‘Glengarry Glenn Ross’ are poor areas of real estate being marketed as top notch by four salesmen of various levels of success and competence who work for the same company and are prepared to lie, bribe, intimidate and even engage in criminality to make a sale.
Act One opens literally with a bang as the lights snap up in a well worn Chinese restaurant which is so real you could be forgiven for looking for a waiter to order your Peking duck and dim sum from. You could be somewhere next door to the Alex in Birmingham’s Chinatown (they even have the same timeless wallpaper).
The American dialogue bangs in too– no doubting where we are now as Mark Benton playing the overweight – past his sell-by-date Shelly Levene delivers an impassioned speech to an emotionless office manager John Williamson (Scott Sparrow).
When John goes to speak Shelly’s hand comes up to stop him – an instruction to us to, to listen and learn. Shelly wants better sales leads – when he is allowed to respond John plays his hand like a merciless poker player with an unbeatable hand, making his opponent go all in until he finally lets him have two ‘hot ones’ for cash and backhand commission.
Another duologue swiftly follows – the lights click up and down and two new players sit continuing this mental poker. Denis Conway plays angry salesman Dave Moss who is attempting to cajole George Aaronow (Wil Johnson) into breaking into the office at night and stealing all the sales leads which he has already presold to a rival company. When George refuses – Dave turns cajoling into outright bullying as he tells him that now George knows the plot he is already criminally implicated.
A final duo replace the last incumbents – Nigel Harman as an oily – slick – top salesman Ricky Roma and his target an innocent James Lingk (James Staddon) sitting at the next table. So perfectly does Ricky reel in his victim that only in the last seconds of the act that we realise what he has done.
The pace of delivery has been like a machine gun – no time to breathe and we have hung on every word. Miraculously no-one has suffered a coronary in this unrelenting frenzy.
Act Two is an equally impressive setting – a cheap tired office, which reeks of stale smoke and sweat where our nest of vipers conducts their business.
There is a chart with the monthly figures – topped by Ricki who is just a few ‘k’ away from a Cadillac bonus.
There are piles and piles of boxes, which literally go up to the ceiling, desks buried in phone directories and papers, open filing cabinets and wallboards with old notices pinned to them in bundles. So great is the clutter that we can be forgiven that it is only when we meet the police detective who comes out of the interview room that we learn there has been a robbery the night before and yes the coveted sales leads have gone!
So the plot becomes a whodunit as well as an exercise in stone turning to see which character is most despicable. There are no nice guys here – even the luckless James who turns up to get his deposit back is not likable. The language is a barrage of expletive-deletives from start to finish but totally in keeping with the characters and the period.
The all male cast is seven-strong, lets crib and call them – ‘The Magnificent Seven’ cowboys and conmen – all simply superbly cast and played to perfection.
I felt in the presence of something very special – it’s not the first time I’ve seen this play or indeed the film but it is by far the best.
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