Glengarry Glen Ross
Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue
Review by Philip Fisher
Arthur Miller proved that the death of a single salesman can fill an enthralled theatre. With Glengarry Glen Ross, which is now almost 25 years old, his more youthful counterpart, David Mamet demonstrated that half a dozen of them when viewed from the correct comic perspective can do likewise.
Indeed, the first short scene of James MacDonald's enthralling revival could easily have come straight from Miller. Shelly "The Machine" Levene, played with perfect, breathless conviction by Jonathan Pryce, must once have been a sparkling exponent of the mysterious art of closing a real estate sale but his best days are long behind him.
By the end of a Chinese meal in an unprepossessing Chicago diner, designed by Anthony Ward who closes the viewing space down to a cinematic widescreen, like poor old Willy Loman he is practically begging his much younger boss John for good leads. Irish actor Peter McDonald does a good job in the latter part, especially since he was only drafted in as a last-minute replacement. You would never have known it on the delayed opening night, but for one brief battle with a flirtatious doorknob.
This pair is replaced by a couple of bitter, struggling oldies, Dave and George. MacDonald favourite, Matthew Marsh as Dave, has a plan involving a Watergate like break-in that will enable them to get rich and join the opposition. The much older and far more nervous George, beautifully played by Paul Freeman, wants little to do with it but is soon blackmailed into reluctant obedience.
The third pairing sees the remarkable Aidan Gillen as Richard Roma. He is the crème de la crème of real estate salesman and completely snows an almost silent customer, James Lingk played by Tom Smith.
In what feels like a flash, the interval curtain comes down leaving much food for thought and room for discussion about the sales that we had clinched or more probably the salesman beaten off.
The overall impression is of the remarkable realism of Mamet's dialogue observed several times over, first in the picturesque hesitations and repetitions of Jonathan Pryce, then with the motor mouth of Matthew Marsh and stunningly as exemplified by the steam roller technique perfected by Aidan Gillen. All are on top form and this must surely also be a compliment to James MacDonald who always tends to be good at this kind of fast-paced work.
During the interval, the robbery takes place and the curtain rises to reveal a bright, soulless office like a million others around the world. The only difference is that most of the paperwork is on the floor and the boss's office contains a bad-tempered policeman played by Shane Attwooll.
As the salesman interact, the comedy becomes rich. These men, who will stop at nothing to get a sale, are hardly likely to be slowed up by something as insignificant as a burglary or a tetchy cop. The events of the night are only of interest to the extent that they might prevent them from getting the next lead or recording the last transaction.
In this context, Mamet offers his actors a series of tours de force. Pryce gets to glory in the reliving of a sale to a couple of deadbeats, which Levene believes provides absolute proof of the fact that he is back on a hot streak. It is a toss-up as to whether his being uncovered as the burglar or the denial of his feat is the more devastating to this destroyed man, but either way he is left as badly damaged as Arthur Miller's anti-hero.
Gillen also gets to show off his technique as his pathetic dupe comes back to renege on the sale. Every weasel phrase in the book is trotted out with smarmy conviction until it is hard to believe that Lingk can escape.
In Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet has achieved something really special in debunking The Great American Dream and the materialism that underpins it, while at the same time giving his audience a scary sight of the masculine ego at its best and worst. He also provides a lot of laughs in a play that has not dated and could as easily have been written last week, both for its themes and characters.
One thing is certain; the salesmen who need to shift tickets at the Apollo will not be forced to resort to the techniques that are so impressively demonstrated on stage there every night.