American Buffalo

David Mamet
Rising Moon Productions
The Kings Arms, Salford

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Colin Connor as Don and Dave MacCready as Teach Credit: Shay Rowan
John O'Neill as Bob Credit: Shay Rowan
John O'Neill as Bob and Colin Connor as Don Credit: Shay Rowan
Dave MacCready as Teach
Colin Connor as Don
Dave MacCready as Teach and Colin Connor as Don

Just as former Royal Exchange Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom's production of Work It Out is closing at HOME in Manchester, former Octagon Artistic Director David Thacker has revived David Mamet's American Buffalo, which I don't think has been seen in this region since the Royal Exchange production in 2002, at leading fringe venue The Kings Arms in Salford.

Like the Royal Exchange production, the theatre is configured in-the-round, but it is also what is often labelled 'immersive' as the audience is almost in the midst of the action, with Don's junk shop filling the space and the small audience on mismatched chairs scattered around the edges. This certainly increases the tension in the room during the later moments of violent, destructive activity.

Don is briefing his young but seemingly not too bright protégé Bob on the job he wants him to do tonight. A man came into the shop and gave him $500 for a buffalo, a nickel coin that he didn't think was worth anything, so he has concocted a plan to rob this man while he is away for his coin collection.

Then Teach comes in, still ranting about the card game the night before, and decides to muscle in on the job, playing mind games with Don to persuade him to push Bob out and use him instead. Don agrees, but he wants another friend, Fletch, to be in on it as well. Of course things don't go according to plan and trust breaks down within the team.

All of this is told using Mamet's familiar fractured, overlapping and repetitive dialogue with a rhythm that is very difficult to get right—and no doubt to learn—but this experienced cast gets it spot-on. This masculine posturing using many words that say very little until they explode into violence is also typical of this playwright, perhaps echoing Pinter and leading to the likes of Tarantino. But there is also a great deal of humour in the play.

Thacker's production is tight and tense throughout, but then he has a terrific cast, led by a totally compelling performance by Colin Connor as laid-back Don, always completely believable as the cautious, more thoughtful one, the nearest there is to a character with whom we can sympathise, but still his escapade doesn't seem very well thought-through. Dave McCready's Teach is the perfect sparring partner, much more wired and unstable, though it's difficult to see why Don would trust anything he told him. John O'Neill's Bob is someone who desperately wants to be part of the gang, but is obviously vulnerable while not being entirely trustworthy.

This is a very classy production with a quality of cast you might expect to see on one of our big stages rather than in a small room over a pub. The seating capacity is pretty small and it's only on for another week, but it's definitely worth making the effort to see it.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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