Gillen & Glengarry Gang Swear Blind at WOS TalkDate: 8 October 2007
The 150 theatregoers at our sell-out Whatsonstage.com Outing to the new West End revival of David Mametís Pulitzer Prize-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross at the Apollo Theatre were treated to a unique insight into the production, the power of language, swearing and the salesmanís psyche, when we were joined by the company and director James Macdonald for an exclusive discussion after Thursday nightís performance.
In a real estate office in Chicago, the salesmen are pitched against each other in a cut-throat competition. Close the deal and youíve won a Cadillac; blow the lead and youíre f...ed. In a world of high stakes and hard sell, these men will do anything, legal or otherwise, to sell the most. Glengarry Glen Ross had its world premiere at the National Theatre in 1983 and was subsequently produced on Broadway and adapted, by Mamet, for a 1992 film.
While Jonathan Pryce was unable to attend the Q&A last Thursday, the rest of the seven-strong company Ė Aidan Gillen, Paul Freeman, Matthew Marsh, Shane Attwooll, Tom Smith and Anthony Flanagan* - were on hand along with director James Macdonald. The discussion was chaired by Whatsonstage.com editorial director Terri Paddock.
Glengarry Glen Ross started previews on 27 September 2007 at the Apollo Theatre, where itís booking until 12 January 2008. *The press performance, originally scheduled for this Wednesday 10 October 2007, has been postponed until Friday following the withdrawal of Anthony Flanagan, who has now been replaced by Peter McDonald (See Todayís Other News).
For more photos and feedback on last Thursdayís event, visit our Outings Blog. Edited highlights from the Q&A follow Ö
On why itís a good time to revive the play
James Macdonald: If these guys were around now, theyíd be selling sub-prime mortgages. The story doesnít goes away and the whole message of the play Ė that life is about selling, that life is about the deal, life is about what you can put over on the other guy or the other person Ė is about the world we live in. Iím amazed listening night after night that it really hasnít dated at all. The only thing thatís different is the telephone, the technology. The heart of the play is still absolutely with us Ö (We didnít consider changing the setting to today because) I think it is a period thing, although itís interesting because Mamet, when he wrote it, was remembering a time when he was a student or had just graduated and he worked in a real estate office and that would have been much earlier, the late Sixties, early Seventies. In a way, heís referring to an older time and the play obviously reflects back to Death of a Salesman and an older era still. In a way, itís an argument with that culture and an older generation of plays.
On British theatreís appreciation of Mamet & American drama
Matthew Marsh: I did a play last year by another American writer. I think itís just very very difficult to get new plays on in New York, which is the centre of the American theatre world. So that play was also picked up by the National. I think there are just a few more opportunities over here for an unknown writer to get their work on.
Paul Freeman: I was speaking to a bunch of American actors who live here and work here all the time when I knew I was going to do this. They said that they would love to have the opportunity to do this play, but they did appreciate that English actors had a different attitude towards this writing than they did. They suggested that American actors are rather reverential towards it and do a lot of mining in the parts and in the dialogue. They said weíre rather better at the energy and the speed of the piece Ė which I took to be a compliment.
Aidan Gillen: This is the third Mamet play Iíve done. The first was a play called the water engine at Hampstead theatre and I did American Buffalo in Dublin this year at the Gate. And Iím Irish. I am attracted to his writing. As far as contemporary American playwrights go, heís one of the best. The dialogue is exciting and fun to perform.
On accents & getting the language right
James Macdonald: I actually asked David Mamet, what do we do about Chicago? And his advice was, ignore it. Itís a weird accent that would be very hard for an actor to do and would only make it harder for an audience to hear the play. Our dialect coach Ė Joanne Washington who is brilliant Ė says the thing about this play is that the rhythm is so Chicago that you donít actually have to do the sound of Chicago. It sounds Chicago anyway because Mametís rhythm is so specific to that city.
Matthew Marsh: It took me longer to learn than normal and itís to do with the cut-off sentences because you need to know what youíre going to say in a cut-off sentence even though you never express it. So youíre leaping from one unfinished thought to another unfinished thought and itís quite tricky to learn.
Paul Freeman: Weíve all tried very hard to be precise as we possibly can and thatís difficult because it goes at such a speed. And weíre still working towards that, being as precise as possible. Given that, once weíre on top of certain scenes, it is possible to elongate or shorten the pauses. But apart from that, thereís no improvisation Ė unless something goes badly wrong.
James Macdonald: The fantastic thing about this play is itís about selling, and these guys are selling the language. Itís about everything you can do with the use of language to put one over on someone else, to seduce someone else. Apart from being brilliant in a play and something that we recognise in life, itís absolutely at the heart of acting as well. Acting is nothing else but putting something over on the audience. Itís so essentially theatrical, this sense of the play.
On links with Arthur Millerís Death of Salesman
Shane Attwooll: Wasnít this called ďDeath of a Fucking SalesmanĒ originally, wasnít it? Thereís a desperation in the Willy Loman character and also in Shelley Levene. Thatís sense that they were a wonderful salesman at one time and now they canít compete.
On the salesmanís psyche
Matthew Marsh: the thing about the viciousness is that their lives have changed because the rules of the game have changed. Murray and Mitch have created this contest and two of them out of four are going to get sacked within the next couple of days. So they really are fighting for their lives Ė theyíre getting on, how are they going to make a living (if they lose this job)? So there is a desperation there. And I think you get a sense in the play of the change, that ten years ago things were different. Shelley goes on about whoever bought a meal when I was a plush. You know when times are good itís (snaps fingers), come on yeah, letís go have a drink. Thatís the background. But now because of the new Eighties kind of philosophy of the marketplace, theyíre all having to scratch at each other to try and survive.
Aidan Gillen: Itís dog-eat-dog, thatís the environment, itís vicious. Thatís real estate, not that I have anything against estate agents.
Paul Freeman: We did have a man from the Carphone Warehouseís flagship shop. He came and talked through his life and how they worked in this enormous shop in Oxford Street. It was pretty terrifying I thought. But it gave us a very good insight.
Aidan Gillen: But weíre not all based on Carphone Warehouse.
On differences between the play & the film version
Paul Freeman: I hadnít seen the film until we were doing this. After a few weeks, I thought, well I feel confident enough now to see it, and I was rather disappointed. I think the play is an extraordinarily tight piece of writing, the structure of it is phenomenal, itís surprising and yet at the same time youíre taken into this world that you know nothing about when the curtain goes up and within a few pages, you start to understand, youíre educated into this world that you had no idea about. The film is not about that, the film becomes about performances. Itís not a critique of capitalism, which I think the play is.
Aidan Gillen: I saw (the film) ages ago. As far as film adaptations of plays go, I think it was pretty good and better than a lot. But I think itís a better play than a film.
James Macdonald: I donít think the play needs it (the filmís scene where Alec Baldwin gives his ďalways be closingĒ motivational speech). I can see why they put it in the film. But the play is so pure. You have three scenes in the restaurant Ė bam, bam, bam Ė and then youíre in the office. Itís so neat as a structure. Where would you put Alec? It doesnít work. Youíd have to rejig it quite a lot.
On the number of expletives in the dialogue
Matthew Marsh: Just for your benefit (to the theatregoer who said he enjoyed all the swearing in the play). If you go to Myspace, you can get the fuck version of GG the film. They just edit all the fucks together, it lasts for about three minutes. Itís really funny. The Big Lebowski is good as well.
Paul Freeman: I only have three words in the whole piece, which is nothing compared to everybody else!
For more photos and feedback on this event, visit our Outings Blog.