Sam Yates’s understated but potent production of David Mamet’s 1983 play marks the return to the London stage of Christian Slater. The former Hollywood teen idol’s best known films are his earliest — Heathers, Interview With a Vampire, True Romance — and his star wattage has dimmed in middle age.
Yet there’s an integrity and authenticity to his stage performances that always impresses, and in Mamet’s dog-eat-dog drama about American real estate salesmen, he summons coiled, controlled aggression as slick Ricky Roma, the seller who currently tops the office league table and so is least likely to be fired — and in line to receive the bonus of a Cadillac.
But, soon after the press night, the focus on this production shifted from Slater to his co-star Robert Glenister who had reportedly “frozen” on stage. The Hustle star had reportedly been fending off tax problems and had collapsed during an earlier preview performance.
I mention this not to dwell on a man’s misfortune but to report that in the performance I saw — the one after the “freezing” incident — the cast of a play about men in crisis had their own problems.
Glenister had been replaced by understudy Mark Carlisle. Working from the script Carlisle played the role of Dave Moss, the salesman who conspires to break into the office and steal the all-important “leads” — a list of customers likely to buy — without which these guys couldn’t sell a hoover.
In the restaurant scene, where he attempts to elicit the help of a reluctant George (Don Warrington), Carlisle manfully grappled with the staccato rhythms of Mamet’s dialogue while keeping one eye on a script disguised as a napkin.
Mamet’s play needs no help to generate drama. And, happily, Glenister has returned to the production. But the particular circumstances of this performance saw a bunch of male actors and characters simultaneously fighting for their professional lives.