The press night of James Macdonald's superb West End revival of Glengarry Glen Ross, the David Mamet classic about in-fighting real-estate salesmen, had to be postponed when the actor Anthony Flanagan withdrew from a pivotal role during the previews. Two days later, the premiere was reconvened, and miracles have been engineered in the interim, on stage and off.
In what must have been a logistical nightmare to organise, an ordinary Friday night at the Apollo had been transformed into a 7pm press performance, replete with celebrities and critics.
On stage, with Peter McDonald expertly filling the breach, the orchestration is even more impressive. This production is a precision instrument, calculated to give deep pleasure. The director and team have an arrestingly fresh angle on the piece.
For the first three scenes, where we eavesdrop on duologues, the designer, Anthony Ward, has brought the row of booths in the restaurant to the front of the Apollo's large proscenium stage. It's a witty and unnerving decision to tighten the space, as it brings home the inner claustrophobia of paranoid anxiety that these hustlers carry round with them. It also neatly sets up the round of applause that greets the opened-out spectacle of the pillaged real-estate office (robbed by one of its own employees) that greets the eye at the beginning of the second act.
With none of the sentimentality that marred Jack Lemmon's performance in the film version, Jonathan Pryce brings a brittle bravado and the BO of desperation to the role of Shelly Levene, the dog who has had his day. Excellent Aidan Gillen radiates a seedy sexual flamboyance as the ferrety Richard Roma, an operator whose intense, flirty sales seduction works disastrously well on Tom Smith's Lingk (a hapless sucker in a blazer). Gillen suggests the kind of man who might lure you with lingo and liquor to bed and leave you feeling existential nausea when you woke up next to him the next day.
The acting in this 1980s update on Death of a Salesman is splendid across the board, with the cast boasting Matthew Marsh (as the compromised critic of the capitalist system) and Peter McDonald, who is all contained cruelty and biding vengefulness as Levene's young nemesis. The staccato music of Mamet's dialogue is handled so well that, without subtitles, foreign visitors would know what was going on. A great evening.
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