Writer: David Mamet
Director: Sam Yates
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
Take yourself back to early 80’s corporate America. Shades of beige and shiny suits, double-breasted jackets and slicked back hair. This is the age of sales targets, machismo, the era of success or failure. This is where the lines of professional salesmanship blur with lies, greed, and corruption.
First staged at The National Theatre in 1983, David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize and Olivier Award-winning, Glengarry Glen Ross, is now touring following its 2017 West End revival, directed by Sam Yates.
A team of four cut-throat, Chicago, real estate salesmen are desperate to meet their targets. Ricky Roma (Nigel Harman), Shelley Leven (Mark Benton), George Aaronow (Wil Johnson) and Dave Moss (Denis Conway) all know what’s at stake. In this winner-takes-all culture, you hit your targets and you get to win a bonus, you miss them and you lose access to prime clients and risk an impossible descent out of the business.
The short, very episodic, first half sees three brief interchanges between members of the sales team, their manager, and one of the clients being ‘groomed’ for a sale. Mamet’s play slowly reveals, in each exchange, the character and desperation of each man and just how close to breaking point each is approaching. Levene is desperate enough to attempt a bribe on the team manager, John Williamson (Scott Sparrow). Williamson, loathed and unpopular, has become the lightning rod for all the referred, individual and group, frustrations of the team. The nervous Aaronow is losing confidence under the continual pressure. Loud-mouthed Moss hints at even breaking the law to stay in the game. Only, Ricky Roma, the silver-back gorilla of them all, appears to have the charisma to deliver. Yet when we see him pitch to the vulnerable Lingk, we see he is a manipulative, ruthless liar prepared to exploit any weakness.
The exchanges are razor sharp, the subject dry and the settings suitably dreary. There is not one likable character throughout the play, yet Mamet’s writing keeps us transfixed with clever dialogue, humorous exchanges, play on words, and the gradual building of tension as we wait to see who cracks first in their desperation to ‘close the deal’. In Glengarry Glen Ross, Mamet is scathingly critical, of the damage to society and individuals such corporate pressures and the link to virility and success despite the costs, put on people.
Performances from Harman and Benton, as Roma and Levene, are central to the success of this production. You almost feel sorry for the perspiring Levene, but you don’t, which is a credit to Benton. Harman manages to deliver the tricky balance of portraying the loathsome Roma who we both admire and fear at the same time. Sam Yates’ revival is as relevant now as it was in the era of the 1980’s and Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko. Only the racial references seem a little insensible to the current ear.
Runs until 2 March 2019 | Image: Marc Brenner