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A CurtainUp London Review
by Lizzie Loveridge
David Mamet's savage comedy, a commentary on what our society has become, mercilessly portrays the sleazy world of seedy fifth rate hotels, sex industry outlets and gambling that big cities generate. Twenty three different scenes in seventy-five minutes, the audience is whirled through the ugly sub-culture of vice as Edmond hits rock bottom in every sense. With an almost cruel economy of language, Mamet's characters incisively rattle out their words. In many respects Edmond is an innocent, a patsy, exploited by everyone he meets. Starting out looking for sex, he is ripped off and mugged which leads him to buy a survival knife. This culminates in his murder of a waitress (Nicola Walker) who has asked him back to her apartment. As Edmund spirals towards personal disintegration, his racism emerges and he freely expresses it. In prison he is raped by his Hulk-like black cellmate (Nonso Anozie) but eventually finds comfort in this companionship.
There is something rather inevitable and predictable about Edmond's journey of descent as if Mamet has created him to demonstrate the corrupting effect of greed and drugs and the resulting violence present in society. We, the audience, are never surprised by the scam - we see it coming. Edmond learns not to take responsibility for his own actions but to blame others, even as he murders Glenna, he cries out to her "Now look what you've done, now look what you've bloody fucking done". But Branagh's acting raises the whole and Edward Hall's direction manages to fill the Olivier's vast space with this play which is often given a more intimate setting.
Branagh's Edmond is a stocky figure but vulnerable too, automaton-like as his wife (Tracy-Ann Oberman) screeches at him when he announces that he is leaving and powerless to defend himself against the scam mongers of the city. As Edmond is sucked into the cesspit, Branagh conveys that he is flotsam and jetsam, swept along but he becomes crazy eyed. We know he is starting to lose his morality the normal social restraints when he shouts at the old lady. By the time he has met Glenna the actress/waitress, he is losing touch with his own sanity as he rails against black people, his view of society becoming skewed bizarrely. Mamet recognises that the expressed racism from Edmond allows Glenna to voice her homophobia, as they reveal to each other unacceptable views, each made secure by the other's extremism. Pale eyed Nicolas Walker is impressive as Glenna, the girl who becomes Edmond's victim when she refuses to declaim that she is a waitress rather than a wannabe actress. There is good support from the cast in the many vignettes of pimps and prostitutes, con merchants and card sharps, policemen and preachers.
Michael Pavelka's design uses the revolving Olivier stage to simply change scenes, but the whole is dominated by grey, lifeless concrete which is both depressing and enclosing.
Branagh is touching in his prison scenes when manacled and terrified he receives a visit from his mystified wife. "You make one mistake and then you didn't make it right and that is your life." In the final scenes he castigates God to improve the world and he and his cell mate attempt to explain the reason for human existence ending the play on a kiss.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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