THEATRE / Brute strength: Paul Taylor on David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross at the Donmar Warehouse
Friday 24 June 1994
A more suggestive parallel than with any of Mamet's fellow American dramatists would be with Ben Jonson, who also wavers between contempt and celebration when portraying confidence tricksters in The Alchemist. That comedy was memorably staged a couple of seasons back by Sam Mendes, who is the director of this powerful revival of Glengarry. It must have been excellent training.
Apart from an utterly mesmeric performance by Al Pacino, the recent film of this play was just a lengthy admission that you damage its essence if you remove it from the theatre. So it may seem paradoxical to praise Mendes for an effect in the first two scenes, set in a Chinese restaurant, that is quasi-cinematic. As successive pairs of salesmen engage in intense conversation, they and their table are rotated slowly on a central revolve. It creepily reinforces the sense that they are being observed like specimens.
One of the misjudgements of the film is to add a laborious scene at the start explaining the terms of the new, inhuman sales competition, whereas one of the glories of the play is that it pitches you right in with three fragmented scenes that assume a familiarity that you have, in fact, to acquire on the hop. Mendes paces the material with a sort of laconic violence, from the startling rise of the scrim at the start, to the sinister, finger-clicking percussion between scenes that is brilliantly in tune with the play's story-telling manner.
The production, though superbly cast, doesn't get as many laughs as it might. To have Ricky Roma (fine Ron Cook), the flashiest of the salesmen, and Lingk, the dupe he cons with his snake- charmer spiel, conversing from separate tables destroys the illusion of intimacy you need for the sudden revelation that they have only just met ('My name is Richard Roma, what's yours?') to register as a delicious joke. Placing them apart also weakens the impression that Roma's sales pitch is a kind of sexual seduction of this stranger.
With his 'Corrupt, moi?' gestures, Anthony O'Donnell is wonderfully funny as the self-righteously manipulative Moss, and Mendes keeps everything hard-edged. For example, James Bolam, as dilapidated Shelly Levene, a former star salesman now down on his luck, valuably rids the part of the pathos Jack Lemmon coated it with in the film. Presenting the man in all his seedy, unlovable desperation, Bolam's Levene doesn't make false bids for sympathy. Again unlike Lemmon, Bolam keeps you guessing about his responsibility for the robbery until the last possible moment. Impressively uningratiating, like the production.
Booking: 071-867 1150
Review: Of Mice and Men
By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work
Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar
What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?
Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings
The actor has confessed to his own insecurities
Allotments are the focus of a new reality show
Arts & Ents blogs
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
'Sinful': Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy comes under attack
An open letter to Nigel Farage: you may smile, but I am not seduced
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
Abdullah Deghayes: My son was the martyr of a just cause, says father of British teenager killed in Syria conflict
- 1 Disabled people are trapped in assessment 'nightmare' by PIP benefits regime, says Dr Stephen Duckworth
- 2 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 3 Queen turns 88: David Bailey captures another side of the Queen in birthday portrait
- 4 Loch Ness Monster found on Apple Maps?
- 5 Criminals ‘using unmanned drones and infrared cameras to find illegal cannabis farms’ – and then steal from the growers