Review: Glengarry Glen Ross, Playhouse Theatre

“We’re a dying breed”

Obviously, the choice to stage David Mamet’s ode to toxic masculinity Glengarry Glen Ross was made long before the hashtag #MeToo shattered the blinkers of anyone unaware of what men have been getting away with. But it feels indicative of a theatrical culture that has reflected and reinforced a societal imbalance – all-male plays, written by men, directed by men, lauded by prize ceremonies and thus easy targets (and safer bets) for revivals, a self-perpetuating loop that doesn’t seem to even be coming close to stopping. 

And why should it, one might argue. Sam Yates’ production is astutely cast and tightly wound as it visits the world of Chicago real estate. Firstly through a set of short duologues in a Chinese restaurant in which we variously meet a set of salesmen and discover their place in the pecking order. And then after the interval, they’re all brought together in their office (an impressive almighty set change from Chiara Stephenson) which has been broken into and where all the frustrations and feelings they’ve been bottling up now come tumbling free. 

So it’s tough to be a man in a patriarchal world, to be abandoned in a dog-eat-dog world where they only way to survive is to be nastier than the fucker coming up behind you, and the one in front of you, and the random one sitting next to you in the diner. As the head of the alphas, Christian Slater is an impressively vituperative Roma and he tussles well with Stanley Townsend’s Levene, hoping for one last great hurrah. Robert Glenister and Don Warrington also impress as old hands who may or may not have one last trick up their sleeve.

But if Mamet’s message about how men lie to themselves and everyone around them remains as pertinent as ever – contemporary parallels are mercifully left to the audience to draw themselves – I left thinking so what. Refusing to indict these men, even as their behaviour gains the oxygen of attention on the Playhouse stage, now feels like a misjudgment. At a time when societal structures feel like they might actually change for once, theatre has to change alongside it to support the process, to encourage it, rather than trot the same old message that it is hard to be a straight white man.

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 3rd February

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