(Seen at the afternoon performance on 27th July 2019).
For the first half of the first scene, it looks like we are in for some if
not vintage Mamet, then at least recognisable cutting cerebral dialogue
satisfying mind and wit. Sure, it doesn't quite seem as sharp as usual, but
things will get better, won't they, as the play continues?
Sadly, that isn't
the case. John Malkovich does his very best to sell us Barney Fein - a
self-confessed fat Jewish man with substantial connections and media power,
making life a misery for assistants Sondra (Doon Mackichan doing her best in an
under-written and under-used role) and Roberto (Alexander Arnold - good impact
in his own diffident part). Everybody else, he bulls*its or bullies to get his
way, from writer (Matthew Pidgeon - lost after the decent opening dialogue,
alas) to Doctor Wald (Teddy Kempner, always sterling in a thankless task).
Object of his twisted lust, rising actor Yung Kim Li (Ionna Kimbook) is the
catalyst for his downfall. Kimbook has outstanding diction, admitting in the
programme to almost playing herself, but clearly destined for future important
stage work. What happens to her in his apartment after he pops a pill leads to
the downfall of everything - not just his character.
A mere 30 minutes after
the interval sees Mamet's work come crashing down. Nothing can avert the
train-wreck that throwing three threads together to tie up as rapidly as they
appeared causes. All sense of character is jettisoned, with yet another -
Charles Arthur Brown (Zephryn Taitte doing his best) appearing and being denied
the potential of an entire act's worth of story. Better that Mamet had ended
where he did as the curtain fell on act one than continue.
direction allows everything - including an impressive Christopher Oram set (the
monkey wants the lamp) that unfortunately requires two lengthy pauses to change
in act one.
When the playwright's words and construct are strongest, the whole
reminds us just who is is. Sadly, it doesn't sustain and this is a bitter
disappointment. As "Oleanna" was before it, here's a subject of topical debate;
but there's a difference. This time, he did it, he admits it, there's nowhere
else to go.
The conversation is over before it has opened, a missed opportunity.