Following a last-minute cast change and a two-day postponement of its press performance, the new West End revival of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross opened on Friday (12 October 2007, previews from 27 September) at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, with Peter McDonald stepping in for Anthony Flanagan in the seven-strong all-male company headed by Jonathan Pryce (pictured) and Aidan Gillen (See News, 31 Jul 2007).
In David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, five cut-throat Chicago real estate men are pitched against each other in a cut-throat competition. Close the deal and you’ve won a Cadillac; blow the lead and you’re 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 starring Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Al Pacino and Alec Baldwin as well as Jonathan Pryce, who now takes on the part of luckless salesman Shelley Levene (played by Lemmon in the film). On stage, Aidan Gillen plays Richard Roma (Pacino on screen).
Also in the cast of James Macdonald’s new production, designed by Anthony Ward, are fellow salesmen Matthew Marsh (as Dave Moss) and Paul Freeman (George Aaronow), Tom Smith (prospective buyer James Lingk, Pryce’s screen role) and Shane Attwooll (the police officer, Baylen). McDonald plays the office manager John Williamson.
If McDonald was at all nervous about being such a late addition to the line-up, it didn’t show as far as the overnight critics were concerned, with one hailing him as “remarkable” for his “complete sangfroid”. There were raves too for both headliners, Jonathan Pryce (“excellent”) and Aidan Gillen (“riveting”), as well as for the “superb” ensemble playing of the entire company, performing at a “cracking pace” in Macdonald’s “nifty” production. But the real star of the evening was undeniably Mamet’s play itself, a “masterpiece” of American drama, which, if anything, is perhaps even more “timely” in today’s consumer-driven society.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (three stars) - “There is still something bracing and uncompromising about Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet’s 1983 play about unravelling salesmen in downtown Chicago … James Macdonald’s production features Jonathan Pryce as Shelly Levene, the salesman on the skids who is desperate for a last chance … The Donmar version laid a strange air of menace and foreboding over the action. Macdonald’s approach is the opposite, absolutely unvarnished, straight down the middle, played at a cracking pace … It’s swift and heady stuff, rattled out with urgency of men whose lives are falling apart but who didn’t have all that much to lose anyway. The denouement is a wonderful, sickening surprise, but like everything else in Macdonald’s production, it steals up on you like a snake in the grass … The ensemble playing is superb …
There are no false pyrotechnics in the playing, just slippery watchfulness and the odd thrust in the ribs. Pryce and Gillen exert a charismatic tarnished charm, one a silver grey urban fox, the other rumpled and transparently untrustworthy. It’s a classy short burst, but is it too quick and too slight for the West End at those prices?”
Benedict Nightingale in The Times (four stars) – “James Macdonald’s West End revival, the first major one for 13 years, confirms that this is maybe Mamet’s strongest, boldest play. Certainly Jonathan Pryce and his fellow actors reinforce the dramatist’s reputation as the bard of four-letter brashness, the laureate of streetwise barbarism, a writer who creates a brazen, gaudy poetry that’s also absolutely purposeful and functional. If you fell into the clutches of Aidan Gillen’s Roma as he verbally feints and weaves, dazzles and disorients, you would end up paying him for the privilege of keeping those alligators as house-pets … You have a clutch of fine performances of carefully distinguished characters … In the dog-eat-dog world Mamet evokes, the law is strictly Darwinian: succeed and thrive, fail and die. I have only one complaint, which is that Gillen half-drops one of the funniest of many cynical lines: ‘always tell the truth, it’s easier to remember’. Otherwise, I laughed, winced and shuddered at an American desperation that we go-getting British can’t wholly disown.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (four stars) – “Does David Mamet's superb play about desperate salesmen belong in a big theatre? At first, as we eavesdropped on a trio of restaurant-booth duologues, I had my doubts. But, when the second-act curtain rose to reveal Anthony Ward's epic vision of a ransacked real-estate office, there were cries of delight and the play effortlessly expanded to fill the space. Written in 1983, Mamet's study of competitive capitalism has scarcely dated in our frenziedly consumerist society … But James Macdonald's nifty production never lets us forget that this is also a play about language. Jonathan Pryce's excellent Levene camouflages his escalating panic with rhetorical flights of foul-mouthed aggression ... Language can equally be a source of evasion. There's a priceless moment when Paul Freeman's troubled Aaronow, having asked Matthew Marsh's bullish Moss if they are really talking about a robbery, is told: ‘We're just speaking about it.’ And Aiden Gillen's Roma comes on to Tom Smith as his prospective client with a barrage of metaphysical bullshit that conceals his ruthless intention. The acting is uniformly fine. And, even if Mamet's play doesn't displace Miller's Death of a Salesman as a metaphor for the debasement of the American dream, it complements and updates it … There is even a pleasing irony about seeing this attack on capitalism finally installed in our theatre's commercial heartland.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - “Glengarry Glen Ross (is) perhaps the last masterpiece in the grand tradition of American drama that began with O'Neill and continued with Williams, Miller and Albee before arriving at Mamet … There isn't an ounce of fat on the piece, the staccato street rhythms of the dialogue are as exhilarating as great jazz, and beneath its apparent inconsequentiality lurk a satisfying plot, sharply drawn characters and a startling vision of the dark side of the American dream … James Macdonald's production just misses greatness. The cast don't seem completely at ease with the distinctive American rhythms, and there are moments when the energy level dips. A late casting change can't have helped the show's cohesiveness … Jonathan Pryce is impressive as the washed-up salesman Shelly Levene, his pleading eyes and horribly insinuating manner putting one in mind of a kicked dog … Aidan Gillen offers a wonderful blast of stage energy as the irrepressible Richard Roma, who we watch making a brilliant sale and subsequently defending it with wicked guile, and there's strong support from Peter McDonald as the coldly calculating manager and Matthew Marsh and Paul Freeman as two salesmen struggling to survive. Not quite perfect, perhaps, but this is still a thrilling short, sharp shock of a show.”
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (four stars) – “No play better conveys the spirit of our money-obsessed times than this enthralling, black comedy by David Mamet … (James Macdonald’s) effective production … snaps, crackles and pops with lies, threats and criminality … During 80 minutes' playing-time scarcely a single expression of genuine kindness or generosity is heard … Few plays are so infested with such expletives or vituperative men who so proudly measure their masculinity according to the size of the deals they broker … Aidan Gillen's riveting Richard Roma, who swindles an innocent husband with heartfelt sincerity by selling him worthless land and wears the nastiest little moustache on the London stage, boasts the charm of a slug clinging to your hand. Glengarry Glen Ross premiered in 1983, but appears more timely today, when both our main political parties bend over backwards to satisfy very big business, than it did in the first, blue, hot flush of Thatcherism … (Pryce’s) Shelly, whose flailing agitation echoes Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, is met with the obstinate, stone-wall of Peter McDonald's young Williamson. The remarkable McDonald, who took over this role just days ago but acts with complete sangfroid, first puts on a terrific show of taciturn indifference, then tries to make money from Shelly's predicament and finally displays the full range of his low-key malice. Comparable displays of oneupmanship follow when Matthew Marsh's repellent agent blackmails Paul Freeman's rather too elderly Aaronow.”
- by Terri Paddock