first night

Glengarry Glen Ross

Sam Westwood delves into the world of real estate with Fortnight Theatre's debut production.

 Whilst watching the first performance of Fortnight Theatre’s Glengarry Glen Ross, I was struck by a glorious epiphany about my destiny. In a moment, the dark clouds of uncertainty about my degree, my career, my future, were triumphantly dispelled. I had realised that my life’s ambition was to become an American estate agent during the 1980s. I could think of nothing better than to enter that glorious world of raw aggression and backstabbing, where your masculinity was measured according to your position on the sales board and your ability to bully hapless clients into signing contracts. ‘Delightful’, I thought, ‘I’d really enjoy that. Sign me right up.’

In case you’ve no idea what I’m going on about, Glengarry Glen Ross is a play about American estate agents. Horrible estate agents. They all hate each other, and they’re all under immense pressure to close deals and make money. Their plotting, scheming and, above all, their swearing, make for a thoroughly enjoyable and frequently very funny evening’s entertainment. It’s a bold choice for Fortnight Theatre, one of several new theatre companies to have appeared in Durham this year. Especially impressive is the fact that the whole show has apparently been pulled together in two weeks (hence the name of the company). The dialogue is difficult: rapid, naturalistic and full of obscure estate agent terminology. When it succeeds, as it mostly does, the result is a chaotic, stressed office atmosphere which feels not dissimilar to The Thick of It during parts of the second act. These chaotic ensemble scenes were some of the best parts of the play for me, and first-time director Wesley Milligan must be especially commended for handling these confidently.

Milligan and his team have assembled a strong cast for this show, with a nice mix of experienced DST members and new blood. The American accents were pretty decent all round, and if lines were forgotten during this first performance, you wouldn’t know about it. Ruari Hutchinson owns the stage as Richard Roma, the vile alpha-male salesman. He manages to make his character seem alternately menacing and ridiculous, without it slipping into overacting: a real triumph. Another stand-out performance is Yusuf Uǧur’s portrayal of Shelly ‘the Machine’ Levene, an older salesman who has fallen into hard times. Uǧur brings out a lovely sense of pathetic desperation from his character. Eleanor George got the first proper laughs of the show as the slightly dim Georgie Aaronow, with brilliantly timed punch-lines and excellent comic facial expressions. She and Hutchinson make a great double act during the very funny beginning of Act Two. A final special mention must go to Jack Usher as James Lingk – the only endearing character in the whole play. The scene where he tries (and fails) to stand up to Roma’s manipulative bullying is poignant and memorable.

My one major criticism of the show is that it felt very lopsided. Whilst the second act was energetic, funny and exciting, Act One was, to put it bluntly, not. The two acts are structurally very different; whilst the second act is continuous and involved different combinations of cast members, the first is simply made up of three long dialogue scenes between pairs of characters. These lacked energy, especially when compared with what was to come. This is possibly the result of only having had two weeks to rehearse the show; more depth in these scenes would have helped. There were also a couple of moments when all of the stage lights went red in order to highlight a particularly dramatic moment. This happened once in each act, and whilst I sort of saw the point behind it, both times I thought it was a slightly ham-fisted way of heightening the tension. One further problem with Act One was the looped piece of Chinese music in the background. At first I thought this was quite effective in setting the mood for the restaurant in which the action takes place; but after a few minutes I began to find it really quite irritating – a bit like being stuck in a Chinese-themed lift. The restaurant looked great, though, as did the office set during the second act. Real credit is deserved for designing a set that made the small stage of the City Theatre seem wide and spacious.

Despite these quibbles, Fortnight Theatre’s production is a real success: a fast-paced and entertaining evening which bodes very well for the future of this new company. Go and see it. Perhaps it will solve all your career problems, as it did for me.

27 November 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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