Laughter and tears in equal measure at ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’

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I love short plays, I’ve decided. Why sit in a theatre for over 3 hours (as seems to be expected so often, these days), when everything that needs to be said can be condensed into the space of 60 minutes and we can all be home, contentedly sipping our cocoa, in time for the BBC News at Ten?

All the more reason, then, for me to enjoy the ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, at London’s Playhouse Theatre. This revival of David Mamet’s play about four real estate salesmen fighting to save their livelihoods clocks in at an impressively compact 85 minutes– and is all the more powerful for it.

I found it funny, dark – and brilliantly-acted. All of the cast are excellent and it seems unfair to single any of them out for additional praise, but having never seen Christian Slater on stage before I was very pleasantly surprised. He’s one of those actors whose presence is magnetic – you cannot take your eyes off him. That said, this is an ensemble piece and Don Warrington, Kris Marshall, Robert Glenister and Stanley Townsend match him verbal blow for verbal blow, as they jostle for position.

There’s an energy in this production that never lets up – a delicious electricity tingling around the theatre that so many other plays aspire to but never quite achieve. The cast themselves look as though they’re having a great time – you get the impression that they are having as much fun as the audience.

That’s not to say that this is easy subject matter. The opening scene of the play sets the tone well for what will follow: the desperation of Shelley Levene, as he rattles off statistics, is palpable. “Echoes of ‘Death of a Salesman’ commented my theatre buddy MB, wisely, as we compared notes during the interval – and it’s true that there are many similarities. Panic, fear, uncertainty and mistrust rule supreme; this play may be 40 years old, but – as with Arthur Miller’s classic – it could have been written yesterday.

Not a play for the faint-hearted or for those easily offended (the air turns blue for a good chunk of the proceedings), but for acting of the highest quality and writing that alternatively grips and repels, you need look no further.

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