L-R: Mark Benton (Shelley Levene) and Nigel Harman (Ricky Roma) in Glengarry Glen Ross UK Tour. Photo: Marc Brenner
I don’t think Richmond Theatre’s regulars quite know what has hit them this week. David Mamet’s brilliant-but-dark 1983 sales drama, Glengarry Glen Ross, which recently played at London’s Playhouse Theatre at the end of 2017, is now nearing the end of its national tour and is easily as good now as it was when Christian Slater and Robert Glenister first opened the show near the banks of the Thames.
This week, just a few miles upstream, the equally talented touring cast led by Nigel Harman and Mark Benton are packing just as hard a punch as their West End counterparts. Having directed an amateur production of this play myself, as well as working in a pushy salesroom in another life, I can fully appreciate how David Yates has skilfully moulded Mamet’s dynamic script around the quick-witted, funny, desperate and selfish personalities working at Mitch & Murray’s Chicago real estate office.
Shelly ‘Machine’ Levene (Benton) has been selling his whole life and is burnt out; Ricky Roma (Harman) is the smooth-talking golden boy who leads the sales board; Dave Moss (Denis Conway) is the bitter salesman who blames everybody but himself for his lack of success; and Aaronow (Wil Johnson) is far too timid and non-confrontational to be in sales at all. In the dog-eat-dog world of American real estate, the quartet are attempting to sell empty plots of land in Florida to whatever leads come their way. And it’s tough going.
Mamet’s play is flooded with profanity, racism and verbal abuse, which makes it an uncomfortable watch for many, but that was how lots of salesmen were, especially in the mid-80s. And from that point of view Mamet is spot on. However, these characters are completely unsavoury and immoral, as is demonstrated when Roma pounces on the opportunity to convince an unsuspecting James Lingk (James Staddon) to invest after he spots him in a Chinese restaurant. Whether this latest victim can afford it is neither here nor there in the quest for the shiny Cadillac prize for the salesman who breaks the $100k monthly sales target. Elsewhere, I really feel for poor office manager, John Williamson (Scott Sparrow), who has to put up with far more verbal abuse, begging, mocking and intimidation than any human being should ever have to suffer.
Acting-wise, this touring production is a real master-class from the entire company with Harman and Benton both sharing top honours. The pair even manage to extract a fair amount of humour from the script. Oh, salesman can be very amusing people, even if they are self-obsessed. I must also mention Wil Johnson who gives a lovely supporting performance as George Aaronow; he does a rabbit in the headlights extremely well.
Chiara Stephenson’s ingenious design faithfully reproduces her West End set which somehow manages to completely transform a traditional Chinese restaurant into a run-down salesroom during the twenty-minute interval; a feat that is arguably worth the ticket money alone.
Glengarry Glen Ross is not going to be for everyone, but when the film adaptation attracts the likes of Al Paccino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin and Jonathan Pryce then you have to respect David Mamet’s writing. One thing’s for sure, you’ll certainly know you’ve been for a night out after this production.
Glengarry Glen Ross plays at Richmond Theatre until Saturday, 20th April. More at: www.glengarrywestend.com
L-R: Scott Sparrow (John Williamson) and Mark Benton (Shelley Levene) in Glengarry Glen Ross UK Tour. Photo: Marc Brenner