Kim Cattrall stars in Josie Rourke’s new production of David Mamet’s elliptical 1995 three-hander about the end of childhood The Cryptogram, which opened on Tuesday (17 October 2006, previews from 12 October) for a limited season to 25 November at the Donmar Warehouse (See News, 14 Jul 2006).
Cattrall, best known for her role as sex-hungry Samantha Jones in the hit US TV series, made her West End debut last year in Peter Hall’s revival of Whose Life Is It Anyway?. She’s joined in the Mamet play by Douglas Henshall. For the press performance, Oliver Coopersmith (pictured with Cattrall) played John, the ten-year-old son of Cattrall’s Donny (he shares the role with Joe Ashman and Adam Brown).
Overnight critics were divided about the merits of Mamet’s play itself, with some questioning the quality of the dialogue. However, most were moved by Rourke’s new production and praised the performances of the leads, particularly that of the young Coopersmith.
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (3 stars) – “The prime reason for reviving this distinctly minor David Mamet play must be Kim Cattrall's eagerness to appear in it. Her decision to do so seems even stranger than The Cryptogram itself…. Her conventional role as Donny, a 1959 wife and mother in Chicago, suffering from severe husband trouble, runs a poor second to that of her unhappy, disturbed ten-year-old son John (Oliver Coopersmith) in Josie Rourke's production…. Coopersmith does not altogether act the obstinately radiant Cattrall off the stage. He becomes the inevitable focus of sympathetic attention when on it…. In three scenes and 65 minutes, Mamet advances from scenes of comfortable domesticity to fury, tears and delusions. At first, though, tranquillity reins and boringly so…. Coopersmith's uncomplaining John stands in silence, fearful of voices in his head. He conveys in a devastatingly restrained performance to what grief comfortable middle-class childhoods may be led.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (4 stars) – “On a first viewing, in 1994, I took David Mamet's cryptic 65-minute play to be about betrayal. Now, in Josie Rourke's fine revival, it seems to be more about the corruption of innocence…. In the most agonising scene of all, as Donny prepares to move house, we deduce that it is John who has been most severely damaged by these adult traumas…. Mamet's point is that we destroy children by thrusting them into a world of adult lies and evasions…. Given without interval, unlike its 1994 predecessor, Rourke's production has the right escalating tension. Kim Cattrall disintegrates excellently as Donny: she starts as an impeccably groomed, emotionally impervious narcissist, who terrifyingly transfers her rage against men on to her hapless son. Douglas Henshall also subtly implies the emotional solitude of the treacherous Del, who clearly craves a surrogate family. But the chief burden falls on Oliver Coopersmith… who invests (the role of John) with an astonishing specific gravity.”
Benedict Nightingale in The Times (4 stars) – “It may seem odd to call Oliver Coopersmith’s bright, inquisitive John the protagonist when the cast also consists of Kim Cattrall as his mother and Douglas Henshall as her gay friend, but that’s Mamet’s own view and that’s the impression left by Josie Rourke’s revival…. The piece now seems as poignant and upsetting as an exercise in retrieved memory on the psychiatrist’s couch. And for that all three performers must share responsibility. Master Cooperman, one of three pre-adolescents alternating the role of John, is clever, callow and as puzzled as one of Henry James’ over-experienced innocents. Henshall is needy, nervous…. Cattrall begins as a 1950s Stepford wife and faintly exasperated mother, becomes plausibly shattered and distraught, and ends up very angry indeed…. The rejected woman spits out her pent-up venom at the rejected boy. A painful end to a fascinating play.”
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (2 stars) – “A cryptogram, something written in code or cipher, is not necessarily something you can understand even if you find the key. So it proves with this short, highly personal and emotionally baffling play by David Mamet, which is no more accessible or enjoyable, really, than it was when given its world premiere in the West End 12 years ago…. Although Josie Rourke’s tensely arranged production has two fine performances from Kim Cattrall as the beautiful wife and mother, Donny, and Douglas Henshall as the gay family friend, Del, you feel markedly short-changed after a mere 65 minutes of bluff and counter-bluff…. Cattrall allows the oddness and obliqueness of the writing to do the work for her. After crashing the crockery off-stage before her entrance, she sails serenely through the play, tugged this way and that by the small revelations of deceit and betrayal.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - “This extraordinarily haunting and upsetting drama seems to pinpoint the precise moment when a young life was turned upside down…. Mamet’s edgy, elliptical dialogue creates an atmosphere of suspense and unease…. Cattrall’s wife and mother is finally reduced to great howls of grief which are, of course, heard and witnessed by her son…. Cattrall, in her crisp frocks and cosy cardigans, is superb as a woman desperately trying to be the archetypal kindly American mother but somehow not quite managing it even before the storm breaks…. Douglas Henshall is deeply creepy as the insinuating friend, while 11-year-old Oliver Coopersmith is heart-rending in his candour, fear and vulnerability as John.”
- by Caroline Ansdell