Glengarry Glen Ross, theatre review: Christian Slater sells sharp Mamet revival

Henry Hitchings
Selling up: Christian Slater and Kris Marshall in Glengarry Glen Ross: Marc Brenner

Imagine being the most ruthless operator in an office full of cutthroats. That’s the claim to fame of Ricky Roma in David Mamet’s caustic Eighties play. It’s a role strongly associated with Al Pacino, Oscar-nominated for his shark-like performance in the 1992 film version. Here it’s inhabited by Christian Slater, who makes this hyped-up Chicago real estate agent a boyish seducer — most sinister when he’s most smooth.

The short first half of Sam Yates’s sharp revival consists of three nicely observed and thoroughly awkward tête-à-têtes in a plushly furnished, empty Chinese restaurant. It’s an introduction to the characters’ inventive deceitfulness — the cunning and verbal pugilism of a gang of macho deal-makers who revel in flogging supposedly prime tranches of real estate (the Glengarry and Glen Ross of the title) to anyone who’s fool enough to listen.

After a necessary yet energy-sapping interval, the production comes alive and the actors — including a hangdog Don Warrington and explosive Robert Glenister — savour the rhythms of Mamet’s language.

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Stanley Townsend is one-time big shot Shelly Levene, struggling to remember the art of persuasion. He captures this broken man's exhaustion and also his fight — the desire to claw a way out of a slump, and his vigour once he thinks he’s done so. Meanwhile Kris Marshall, playing against type to impressive effect, is grimly determined as the ice-cold office manager.

​Mamet depicts a group of men nostalgic for a golden age of salesmanship when the job was synonymous with youth and virility. Those glory days never in fact existed, and instead we’re left with an impression of small men struggling beneath the weight of their delusions.

The result is a vision of toxic masculinity, heartless greed and the way both these things seem to flourish in the marketplace. For the dazzlingly fraudulent Ricky Roma, you are what you sell, and Christian Slater does a fine job of showing how well slick talk can mask lies and viciousness.

Until Feb 3, Playhouse Theatre

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