phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Advertisement
Christian Slater and Stanley Townsend (c) Marc Brenner

Glengarry Glen Ross at The Playhouse Theatre

29 November 2017 Katie Da Cunha Lewin

Glengarry Glen Ross, by esteemed writer and playwright David Mamet, was first produced as a play at the National Theatre in 1983. It was then popularised further in a film also adapted by Mamet, starring Jack Lemon, Al Pacino and Alec Baldwin. Apparently referred to by these actors as ‘Death of a fucking salesmen’, referencing both to its colourful language and content matter, the play explores the lies, deceit and manipulation inherent within real-estate sales.

In an interview with the Paris Review, David Mamet comments that drama is about ‘what the protagonist wants’. In Glengarry Glen Ross, the desires of each character appear at first to be to simply succeed at their job. The problem lies not only in the seedy nature of this job, selling land to buyers hounded into submission, but that the terms of ‘success’ are consistently shifting, through the punishing competitive systems put in place by the owners of the company, Mitch and Murray.  Each salesmen needs to sell a certain amount to get on the chalkboard that sits benignly at the back of the office. The top salesmen are then allowed access to the best leads, the so called ‘Glengarry’ and ‘Glen Ross’ leads, whilst those who struggle to close a sale are given old leads, names of prospective buyers that have been used time and again. By creating these competitions, Mitch and Murray – never seen in the play – engender a profound sense of anxiety, felt in different ways by the four salesmen we meet.  

This new production is full of well-respected actors from the stage and screen.  Stanley Townsend plays Shelley Levine, the washed-up salesman still aiming to recapture his past glories, and provide for his family. Don Warrington plays George Aaronow, seemingly past his prime, bumbling his way through this toxic world. Kris Marshall plays the loathed office manager John Williamson and Christian Slater plays Richard Roma, the supremely confident salesman who sits highest on the board.  The play feels cramped and intense, the characters fight, swear and rally against each other, whilst the shapeless and invisible Mitch and Murray dictate the rules of this strange game.  


Image credit: Don Warrington as Aaronow and Robert Glenister as Moss (c) Marc Brenner

There are only two sets, a Chinese restaurant, and an office. The Chinese restaurant is only ever populated by people in conversation, three separate interactions that move from left to right across the stage; in contrast, the office is full of the comings and goings of the salesmen.  Both sets are starkly characterless, containing little in the way of personal ephemera showing how each character’s individual life has been subsumed in the business itself. The light that comes through the window alerts us to changing time, but its coldness does not necessarily tell us if its day or evening, so that all the events contained within these spaces feel alien from real life.

Christian Slater’s character Roma is in many ways the most complex, though unlike the other characters, he does not struggle to sell real estate; in fact he excels, primarily through his uncanny ability to manipulate people through his use of language.  In many ways, he comes away from the play the best; though he is the most manipulative, he also appears to be the least affected by anxiety, because his entire approach to life seems to be based in this way of thinking. His extensive monologues that pepper the play, though ostensibly full of rhetorical flourishes, are fundamentally meaningless, using images and associations as a way to sell abstract ideas like success and happiness.


Image credit: Daniel Ryan as Lingk and Christian Slater as Roma (c) Marc Brenner

The themes of personal success also relate to the play’s depiction of masculinity.   All the characters are men, and there is little to no mention of women throughout: this world is exclusively populated by men trying to reach the abstracted ‘top’.  However, though the play posits the need to develop a masculine bravado in order to survive in the business, it also reveals the vulnerabilities implicit within this facade. In Roma’s put down of the office manager Williamson, he taunts him, asking mockingly, ‘who told you you could work with men?’ The greatest insult comes at the end of this speech: delivered in amongst all the other expletives, the worst it seems you can be is a ‘child.’  In this, Roma reveals the fear within all these men that they are incapable, not up to the task of participating in a ruthless world.  This tragic undertow leads several characters to take dangerous risks without thinking much about the inevitable effects.

The play diverges from the film most strikingly in that here the cast clearly aim to play far more of the lines for laughs.  Mamet’s dialogue often repeats, re-stating ideas about either the terrible logistics of the company, or the difficulties in living the life of a salesman. In a conversation between Dave Moss (Robert Glenister) and George Aranow, they repeat snatches of each other’s words to each other, overlapping, and re-affirming their shared perspective. Though this is full of pathos, it is also often starkly funny: the way that the leads are given, the way the decisions are made, are fundamentally ludicrous and this production makes this explicit.  Later, in Levine’s pompous re-enactment of his manipulative sale technique, and Roma’s clear enjoyment of his bombastic performance, there is a real affection between the two characters, demonstrating the extent to which their lives have been dominated by the callous logic of sales and how it has deeply shaped their sense of self.

This is an intense and highly enjoyable production of a complex play. The absurdity of the predicaments each character finds themselves in are amplified by the cramped intensity of the setting. This production provides an exhausting look into a farcical world.
 
Glengarry Glen Ross is at The Playhouse Theatre until 3 February 2018.

 
Advertisement

Most popular

What to See at The Cinema

What to See at The Cinema

Your go-to guide to what's on the silver screen
Advertisement
Where to Eat: Cheese Restaurants in London

Where to Eat: Cheese Restaurants in London

Warning: the following feature will contain many a cheese pun. They might not be very Gouda. See, we did warn you.
Advertisement
A Guide to Feminist London

A Guide to Feminist London

To celebrate International Women's Day, here are some places from which women can draw female inspiration and strength
Advertisement
Where to Drink: Wine Bars in London

Where to Drink: Wine Bars in London

Our favourite spots in London for praisin' the raisin
Advertisement
Top 5 Poetry and Spoken Word Events in London

Top 5 Poetry and Spoken Word Events in London

Whether you're performing on stage or watching your faves, we've got the lowdown on the best places for a poetry fix
Win cocktails for two at the Gherkin!

Win cocktails for two at the Gherkin!

Grab a friend, lover or your mother and head up to the very top of a London landmark to do some drinking in style.
Theatre Top Picks of the Week

Theatre Top Picks of the Week

Where to get the best of new theatre openings in London
Museum and Gallery Top Picks of the Week

Museum and Gallery Top Picks of the Week

The place to come for all the best current exhibitions in London...
Top Five Museums and Exhibitions Combining Science and Art

Top Five Museums and Exhibitions Combining Science and Art

When science and art meet they can illuminate the other with a light brighter than a thousand bunsen burners
Review: Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train at the Young Vic

Review: Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train at the Young Vic

Intense production of a compelling story that asks us to see the humanity in two killers

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!

Advertisement