American Buffalo at the Donmar Warehouse

At the entrance to the Donmar stalls, there's a thoughtfully-placed sign that both sets the tone for the evening's entertainment and, in its own way, informs us we're about to see a typical David Mamet play. 'Warning', it reads, 'this production contains strong language.'

It's a well-known fact that expletives have become something of an emblem for the Chicago-born Mamet, and of his characters it's probably true to say that no-one is more foul-mouthed than the scuzzy Teach of American Buffalo.

One of life's great losers, Teach (William H Macy) is part of a trio of small-time hustlers attempting to pull off the robbery of a local coin collector (the American Buffalo of the title is a rare nickel). The scam never materialises, though, thanks to a mixture of misinformation and ineptitude, and instead the night is spent in a power play between himself, the older Don (Phillip Baker Hall) and his young gopher Bobby (Mark Webber) in the all-male preserve of Don's junk shop.

With the excellent Macy in the key role, Neil Pepe's production comes across as taut and emotionally charged. And so it should, the nervy-looking actor is possibly the most credible schmuck in the business, having built his career playing uptight no-hopers like Jerry Lundegaard of Fargo.

Baker Hall, another American character actor, offers solid support in his 'action talks, bullshit walks' role of Don. His world-weary, paternalistic manner contrasts nicely with the naïve, simple-minded Bobby, played by Webber here in his professional debut. Kevin Rigdon too deserves plaudits for creating an amazing Aladdin's cave of a junk shop on the compact Donmar stage (and some sympathy, since much of it gets wrecked by Teach on a nightly basis).

Despite the muscular acting of the three leads, however, the real star of the night is, to my mind, Mamet's raw, beautifully observed script. Like Harold Pinter or Conor McPherson, Mamet is uniquely gifted with an ear for colloquial speech, with its banal dialogue and sentences trimmed of superfluous words and unnecessary theatricality.

It all makes for a realistically poignant tale about losers on the make, which offers us moments of humour, tenderness and violence as it winds its way to an explosive conclusion.

Richard Forrest