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Glengarry Glen Ross

Published 17 April 2008

Succinct in structure, filmic to look at and snappy in dialogue, James Macdonald’s new production of David Mamet’s 1983 play about Chicago real estate salesmen is a slick, polished affair. Revived in London for the first time since the Donmar Warehouse’s 1994 production, it opened at the Apollo on Friday. Caroline Bishop was in the first night audience.

Glengarry Glen Ross (which refers to the name of a real estate development) follows a group of self-interested Chicago real estate salesmen as each attempts to backstab, steal and con his way on to the all-important leader board and bag the top-seller’s prize – a Cadillac.

Each salesman is strongly characterised by his own insecurities and issues, which are brought out by this talented all-male ensemble cast. Jonathan Pryce is convincing as Shelly Levene, once a top seller but now oozing desperation and reduced to rhetoric and bribery as he tries to regain the status he once had. Aidan Gillen’s Richard Roma is the younger, abrasive top-seller, obsessive about winning the Cadillac and quick to pour fury on anyone who stands in his way. While old boy George (Paul Freeman) gets conned by his fellow salesmen into robbing the office to steal the sales leads, Roma puts all his efforts into conning naïve young customer James Lingk out of his money in order to top the board and get his hands on the Cadillac. Throughout, the superior, arrogant and vehemently disliked John Williamson (Peter Mcdonald) marshals the sales leads and plays with the salesman like hamsters on a wheel.

All this is played out in two short, sharp acts: the first is a trio of clever duologues which take place in a Chinese restaurant, while the second shows the consequences of those conversations the next day in the office. The production is firmly rooted in the period in which the play was written, from the brown leather seats of the restaurant to the low prices (by today’s standards) of the real estate sold, to Roma’s 1980s moustache.

Designer Anthony Ward has created a filmic feel with two distinct sets. Act One is played out in widescreen, while the impressively detailed office in Act Two is worthy of any film set, and elicited a gasp of surprise from the first night audience.

This fast-paced play is brought to an appropriately abrupt end, after all involved have unravelled in the face of their own desperations.

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