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The Theatreguide.London Review


Glengarry Glen Ross
Apollo Theatre Winter 2007-2008

One of the best plays by America's leading contemporary dramatist, in a well-paced and sensitively directed production - there's not too much more you could ask for.

Glengarry Glen Ross is David Mamet's look at the lives of high-pressure land salesmen, the ones who convince people to put their life savings into properties that look great in the brochure but are actually undeveloped Arizona desert or Florida swamp land. (Mamet's titles are notoriously idiosyncratic - this one refers obliquely to some of the property developments on offer.)

We watch as the men con and cajole customers and each other, driven by a need to sell that has been so internalised that it is part of their manhood and self-definition. A sincere camaraderie co-exists with cut-throat competition, and the drive to be Number One still enables them to help each other's sales and celebrate each other's victories.

And binding them together is a common hatred and contempt for the customers and a hatred and contempt for the office manager who doles out the precious 'leads' - names of potential customers - and sets the ever-looming sales quotas and competitions.

The play focuses on two salesmen, the oily Roma, currently at the top of his game, and the veteran Levene, trying to get through a slump.

When I first heard that Jonathan Pryce was starring in this revival, I assumed he'd be playing Roma, and twenty years ago he probably would have. But he's Levene, the former star who's lost his touch, and whose brief elation when he thinks he's got it back is one of the play's tenderest moments.

Pryce captures the man's essential sadness without overplaying the pathos, making the most rounded and human characterisation onstage.

Aiden Gillen plays Roma, interestingly avoiding the one-note feral energy most of his predecessors (Joe Montagna in New York, Jack Shepherd in London, Al Pacino on film) used to define the character. Gillen makes him seem at first surprisingly boyish and open, only gradually letting us see that this is a mask and tool he uses to disarm both customers and friends.

Peter McDonald came to this production very late when another actor dropped out, and hasn't quite found the office manager's despicable nastiness, but he will undoubtedly grow into the role.

James Macdonald directs with full appreciation of the play's raw energy, and with two special contributions.

The special staccato, self-interrupting speech pattern that is Mametspeak, as recognisable as Pinterspeak or even Shakespearean verse, is captured in all its rhythmic glory and yet made to sound natural and unforced.

This is no small accomplishment, akin to the success of great Shakespearean actors in doing full justice to the verse and still making it sound conversational, and Jonathan Pryce is particularly impressive at it.

Another of Mamet's stylistic signatures is his recognition and capturing of the role obscenity and profanity play in the natural conversations of men, and those who can't take dialogue full of the standard four-letter obscenities know enough to stay away.

But director Macdonald and his cast make it particularly clear that the playwright doesn't just sprinkle his dialogue with random obscenities. His characters choose their words carefully, as expressions of anger or contempt, assertions of their manhood, or weapons of attack - and all that is clear and powerful here.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Glengarry Glen Ross - Apollo 2007