Richmond Theatre, Monday 15 – Saturday 20 April 2019
It’s hard when watching David Mamet’s play now not to compare it with the (1992) film. Jack Lemmon gave such a spectacular performance that I’d forgotten Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris and Kevin Spacey were even in the same film.
Mark Benton plays the Jack Lemmon role, Shelly Levene, and captures that same desperation of a middle aged real estate agent in a grubby Chicago office who was once king pin, top of the sales chart, bringing in real money, but is now on a losing streak, skint and unable to catch a break. When bluster and bravado fail to work on office manager Dave Moss, played by Denis Conway, he is reduced to pleading with him for some decent ‘leads’ – names of potential clients who might actually be persuaded to buy – rather than having to resort to cold-calling ‘deadbeats.’
The play won a Pullizer Prize in 1984 and now, looking back ten years on from the effects of the financial crash of 2008 you can see the trajectory of how salesmen, ruthlessly selling an aspirational lifestyle, manipulating people’s hopes and dreams without any thought as to whether they could afford it, ended up by bringing the whole greedy edifice crashing down.
The system took its toll on the salesmen as well. That’s what this play shows. Selling is stressful. Chasing ‘prospects’ to get higher up the chalk board and the opportunity of getting the best leads, is like a continual crap game with your daughter’s college fees and your family’s medical insurance at stake. Even Ricky Roma, the Al Pacino character in the film, currently top of the board and within an ace of winning the top salesman’s prize, a Cadillac, changes in an instant when that prize is snatched from him. The office golden boy, played in this production by Nigel Harman, goes from listening sympathetically to Shelly, magnanimous and relaxed, to breaking up the office in fury when the sap he’s persuaded to part with his life savings the night before comes in to the office to cancel the contract, having talked to his wife.
Strong performances by the whole cast, with intense interchanges in a highly charged atmosphere and a very evocative set make this production very well worth seeing.
Photographs: Zephryn Taitte with Nigel Harman; Nigel Harman; Mark Benton with Nigel Harman