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
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 2 Dog thinks owner is drowning in lake, dives in and tries to pull him out
- 3 Thank heavens for Louise Mensch and her foul-mouthed tweets to world leaders
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 Phil Neville backtracks on Tomas Rosicky 'I'd smash him' comments from Match of the Day 2
Ed Sheeran texts Noel Gallagher to offer him tickets after that Wembley Stadium rant
Blink-182 split: Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful' say Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus
Emma Watson to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Sam Smith is now paying Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne royalties for 'Stay With Me'
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia