Review: Glengarry Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross – Playhouse Theatre Until 3rd February


Review by Franco Milazzo

Over three decades since it debuted in London’s National Theatre, Glengarry Glen Ross returns to the capital with a starry cast headed by Christian Slater.

David Mamet’s obscenity-strewn script won a Pulitzer Prize in its day and it is easy to see why. Amidst the coarse language, this tale of desperate real estate agents is a testosterone-filled blast from the past.

In director Sam Yates’ hands, this brief but intense play set in the 1980s is like a fine-tuned engine for better and for worse. He lets the tension build up quickly to full throttle but too often maintains it there for far too long; most of the opening scenes ruthlessly grab the attention but the grip weakens as the quick-fire back-and-forth banter wears on at the same tone and speed.

Photo Credit Marc Brenner

There are surprises all over the park in terms of how the all-male cast tackle the material. Slater is not one of them: he is a natural fit for the arrogant Richard Roma, a tricky Dicky every bit as high on his own supply as his namesake Nixon. Kris Marshall is almost unrecognisable as office manager John Williamson – those used to seeing him in TV roles blander than own-brand cottage cheese will be rocked by the anger and passion he shows here. On the flip side, Rising Damp’s Don Warrington – a man renowned for his deep and slow voice – is left high and dry in his efforts to bring a squeaky American accent to the downbeat and skittish George.

Glengarry Glen Ross

Photo Credit Marc Brenner

The star player here, though, is Stanley Townsend as the ageing salesman Shelley “The Machine” Levene who fights tooth-and-nail to regain his former glory. From soup to nuts, Townsend commands every scene he appears in with a magnificent performance. He works well with Slater who sets him up with some fine lines but Townsend deserves every plaudit for the way he brings to life a character who goes from the very depths of despair to someone lauding it over his colleagues – before falling right back down again.

To borrow a phrase from the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, Glengarry Glen Ross is as nasty, brutish and short a play as there is, it’s toxic depictions of capitalistic pursuit a necessary reminder of the evil men do in the name of money, success and ego. Yates does well by the script but fails to make his mark on Mamet’s material.