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Theatre Review Mamet’s funny kind of sales pitch

LYNNE WALSH sees a top-drawer cast triumph in the US dramatist’s scabrous depiction of a desperate salesman on the make

WHO’D have imagined that an evening in the company of a set of alpha males could be so joyous?

The Playhouse revival of David Mamet’s barnstormer Glengarry Glen Ross is a belter.

From curtain up, with Stanley Townsend’s defiant Shelly Levene, we’re in safe hands in this dissection of desperate salesmen schmoozing and hustling their clients — and one another — accompanied by the torrent of abuse that’s the lingua franca of their shady business.

It’s brutal stuff but Sam Yates’s production is very funny and that’s laugh-out-loud funny, not simply a wry smile at the wittiness of it all.

Christian Slater, the big-name US star in this run, is good as the brash Ricky Roma, with his flirtatious wooing of his client/victim admirably chilling, while Daniel Ryan is perfect as his target James Lingk, with his struggle eliciting bucketloads of sympathy.

The venal Dave Moss, played with great dexterity by Robert Glenister, will try anything to the “leads” to clinch sales as he manipulates sidekick George Aaronow. He’s played by Don Warrington, who gets some of the biggest laughs by a simple slump of the shoulders.

Office manager John Williamson, in Kris Marshall’s portrayal, comes across as less of an almighty drip in this production. He’s got backbone — literally — and, as a man almost content with his place in the scheme of things, seems more able to withstand Roma’s rage.

But, in this tight-knit ensemble, it’s Townsend who steals the show. While Slater shows us a self-made man with his own, solipsistic, self-made morality, Townsend’s Levene is made of different stuff. Not quite over the hill, but certainly in its shadow, he is no Willy Loman.

He’s every bit as arrogant as the cocky Roma but his hunger for the leads to close sales comes from a personal and touching motivation.

Casting directors should heed Mamet’s words when it comes to this fine actor: “Give him the leads! Just give him the goddamn leads!”

Runs until February 3, box office: playhousetheatrelondon.com

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