john and levene

Office manager John Williamson, played by Scott Sparrow, listens unsympathetically to the pleadings of struggling  salesman Mark Benton's Shelley Levene. Pictures: Marc Brenner

Glengarry Glen Ross

The Alexandra Theatre


Salesmen. Most of us have come across them. Try to buy double glazing or solar panels and it is usually easier to get rid of flu than the salesmen.

They are a breed apart, and in David Mamet's 1983 Pulitzer prize winning play we have a whole stageful of them, all chasing sales, commission, top dog prizes, bragging rights, and, ultimately, continued employment.

They are selling to survive, a quartet in a small Chicago estate agent office frantically chasing leads of questionable promise to sell real estate with no appeal to anyone they can persuade to buy, by any means fair or foul.

There is Shelly The Machine Levene, played with a wonderful sense of desperation and vulnerability by Mark Benton.

Levene was a top salesman, a star of the glory days of Glen Ross Farms when the sales and money were rolling in. But, was, is the word that matters. His glory days are long gone, his last big sale a fading memory, and he is desperate for good leads for the new big sell, Glengarry Highlands.

We open with Levene, haranguing then pleading with the cold, unfriendly office manager John Williamson, played with not a trace of warmth or emotion by Scott Sparrow.

The salesmen have a love hate relationship with Williamson. First of all, he is no salesman, he’s an administrator, so not one of them, one of the club, but they all need him because he hands out the leads, and if the leads don’t work out, then he is the one to blame – Williamson’s bad leads, not the salesman, being at fault.

Williamson obviously has little respect for them and their dubious ways, but as long as they hit the sales targets . . . mind you he is hardly straight as a die himself though, as we discover in his less than above board dealings with Levene.

Then there is Nigel Harman as Ricky Roma. Roma is the current star man and Harman plays the arrogant SOB to perfection.

Roma has a charisma about him, exploiting any weakness, making clients feel good about themselves and the sale. In short, he cheats. lies, cajoles, sweet talks, flatters – anything, legal or illegal, to close a sale.

We see him selling to James Staddon’s James Lingk, a middle-aged, hesitant man who probably wouldn’t even say boo to a gosling. He is no match for the rampant Roma, an easy sale for star man Ricky. Easy, that is, until Lingk’s wife finds out and she is a much tougher proposition. Thus, the chastened husband Lingk is sent forth on a mission and is desperately trying to get their money back, or else, before the legal cooling off period expires, a mission that runs for the rest of the play.

And that gives Roma a chance to show why he is top of the leaderboard run by the unseen agency owners Mitch and Murray – a board with the monthly prize of a Cadillac for the winner. Lying would not even come close to describing the Roma technique to save a dubious sale.


Nigel Harman as Ricky Roma peddling lies to save his hard sell deal to James Lingk, played by James Staddon, who wants his money back

While Roma dreams of his Cadillac the rest face being out of a job, so we have the angriest of the quartet, the fast-talking Dave Moss, played with suitable quick-fire resentment by Denis Conway.

He hates Williamson, and the owners Mitch and Murray, hates the stress of working under constant pressure they force on him, hates bad leads, hates . . . well pretty much everything. He has big ideas, big plans and wants to hit them hard, where it really hurts, to get his own back.

Moss has a wonderful way with language, twisting words and stretching and bending their meaning into any shape he wants as he tries to persuade fellow salesman George Aaronnow to join him in his revenge plot.

George, played in a lovely understated way by Wil Johnson, is the quietest of the four. He is an old timer, not the most confident of the quartet, quietly spoken, and showing a fatal flaw in the dog devour dog world where he is working – he shows signs of having a conscience, a hint of a moral code.

You get the feeling he plods along never selling enough to even make it on to the leaderboard to win prizes, but managing just enough sales to remain employed - and perhaps some of his customers might even feel satisfied with their purchase.

The first act gives us three wonderful duologues, all beautifully written as we see and start to understand the four salesmen. It is set in a deserted Chinese restaurant, presumably a regular haunt of the sales team.

The second act moves to the office, the following morning, after a break-in, where all the salesmen, and Williamson, are being questioned by police in the shape of Zephryn Taitte’s Baylen.

The interactions amplify the tensions. The quiet, mild mannered George explodes when he feels he is being accused of the robbery, a suspicion that perhaps the audience might well hold as well. 


We're just speaking about it . . . As an idea  . . . George, played by Wil Johnson is captured by the plans and schemes of Denis Conway's anger-fuelled Moss

The down on his luck, broken Levene makes a big sale . . . a big worthless sale as it turns out, giving him a chance of I told you so gloating and abuse of Williamson, Moss still hates everyone and everything, Lingk wants his money, Roma lies and has a smile, and friendly attitude to everyone, apart from Williamson of course, a smile and attitude one might see in a snake about to strike - his hard, calculating, what’s best for Roma side never being far away.

 This is a sales team with not a single team player. Even the mild George is doing his own thing, or at least minding his own business.

As for Williamson . . . well he gets his revenge, at least in part, doing the police work for Baylen and solving the crime - and a more satisfying personal problem - all in one fell swoop.

 It is a strange mix, in some ways very human, yet devoid of any humanity. These are men who need to sell to eat, every lead a fight to the death, survival of the fittest, deceit has become the norm, a way of life.

Chiara Stephenson’s setting is superb, the deserted restaurant has just the right touch to be run of the mill, neither up nor down market, while the busy, cluttered office set is a marvel, right down to the unwanted cardboard boxes with nowhere else to go  crammed over the top of  the inner office in the corner of the open plan setting.

Director Sam Yates has brought out the conflicts and left us with the three clearly defined duologues in Act I to set up the scene for the drama of Act II leading up to a climax which quickly evaporates. As the dust settles little has really changed, it is the same world with just fewer characters left to play the game. Stark, brutal and even a little depressing.

The acting wherever you look is terrific. The characters are convincing, and Mamet’s writing allied to the splendid acting allows them to develop into people we probably won’t like, but at least we start to understand.

It is a wonderful piece of stagecraft, gritty and realistic, but be warned, for those who don’t like swearing the f-f-f-four letter favourite is scattered though this like currants in an Eccles cake, so much so you become impervious to it - although Moss’s outburst late on when Williamson blows his big sale – ironically, by lying to try to save it as it turned out – still manages to cause a moment of shock to show we were not totally immune.

You might not set off home with the warm glow you get from a happy ending, but you will certainly leave with an appreciation of fine acting and superb writing from a top-class production. To 23-02-19

Roger Clarke  

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