Ambassador Theatre Group, Act Productions, Glass Half Full Productions and Rupert Gavin
Opera House Manchester and touring
25 March 2019 - 30 March 2019; 105min, inc 20min interval
Depending on which survey you read, estate agents come in around number five in the UK’s most hated professions (as it happens, usually a place or two better than journalists).
But that’s in the UK and this is America. It is to be hoped nothing over here happens like it does over there in Mamet’s scorching look at desperate real estate sellers who stoop to anything to close the deal.
It’s set in Chicago, in an office of four cut-throat salesmen desperate to off-load undesirable real estate on to unsuspecting punters. They’re scrambling to get to the top of the leader board to win a Cadillac, and their fate is largely in the hands of office manager Williamson, who doles out the leads they follow to try to clinch their deals. They despise him while they depend on him - and he, it seems, despises them right back.
Mamet’s over-arching and underlying theme is American capitalism, but when it is up there on stage it’s a lot more personal than that. The intense concentration on the plight of individuals and the taut, high drama of just how far they will go when pushed, is what appeals to audiences. It’s a gripping modern classic.
This production, by wizard young director Sam Yates, is based on his West End staging of a couple of years ago. It’s been recast, but with such quality players there are no complaints on that front. It’s a terrific ensemble.
Mark Benton is Shelly ‘The Machine’ Levine, his genial outer shell hiding his fear that he’s lost his touch. The panic glimpsed behind his eyes goes away, to be replaced by his old gushing self as the plot unfolds in the second half
Nigel Harman’s hotshot Ricky Roma is as smooth as silk at first, reeling in a punter at the end of the first scene, but proves to be hiding a lethal mix of menace and outright aggression as the second act throws everything up in the air.
Yates paces everything pretty much perfectly, with the cast handling Mamet’s trademark staccato dialogue as if to the manner born.
The set, by Chiara Stephenson, is a huge Chinese restaurant with red lanterns and well-stocked bar in the first act, then an office in turmoil, with incredibly detailed chaos strewn across it in the second. It is quite astonishing that they have decided to tour such a massive construction. The stagecraft involved in changing one for the other during a 20-minute interval is quite remarkable.