Glengarry Glen Ross | Black Swan State Theatre CompanyLeft – Damian Walshe-Howling and Steve Turner. Cover – Kenneth Ransom and Luke Hewitt. Photos – Gary Marsh.

Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet moves at a breakneck pace, cleverly enabled by the revolving set utilised in Black Swan’s production which opened last night at the Heath Ledger Theatre. I knew little about the play or the movie when I arrived and the details aren’t handed to the audience, it’s very much a case of “keep up or get left behind”.

The frequent coarse language is embedded into the script just as successfully for rhythm as for impact and insult. While there isn’t a lot of humour written into the characters’ lines, we found mirth in the delivery and our recognition of the human condition.

Peter Rowsthorn had great opportunities to demonstrate the widest range, as his character, Shelley Levene plunged and peaked between desperation and success. Again, while his character was not at all likeable, Rowsthorn did evoke a little pity for Levene, the once great salesman trying desperately to avoid the demise of his career, just as surely as trying to ward off baldness with a tacky 80s comb over.

Will O’Mahony plays John Williamson who is of modest physical stature, young, vapid, inexperienced and completely unthreatening to his subordinates, who continuously bully, bribe and shout their way past his authority. Having a reversed power dynamic makes the relationships between the characters more interesting because, although he’s the office manager, Williamson has to do a whole lot of listening to the ranting of his disgruntled team. O’Mahony did quite well in the face of several, powerful monologues aimed in his direction.

Of his work I’ve seen thus far, I think this is the best of Kenneth Ransom. His delivery drew the humour out of the script as he steamrolled his colleagues and dominated each conversation. His tall, slender and distinguished looks helped him characterise the slippery way that Dave Moss carried himself with a righteous attitude.

George Arronow, played by Luke Hewitt, has a gentle naivety that makes him appear open to coercion and manipulation by some of the stronger characters. I wouldn’t say that he or any of the characters were likeable, but I felt a degree of sympathy for Arronow because of the vulnerability Hewitt brought to the man. He also provided a contrast and held space for the more voracious characters to vent and plot.

The more experienced actors navigated the pitfalls of the difficult (though impressive) set design and problematic sight lines to give as much as they could to the whole audience. It’s impossible not to notice that many patrons would have had to make do with watching a passionate monologue with a profile view of the actor, at best. From our vantage point on the very far seats to one side in the second row, we were able to catch a fleeting glimpse of the all important “Board” before the venetian blinds in the office were closed.  It would have been impossible for the audience opposite us to catch that moment and it caused me to wonder what other interactions I had missed.

While it had its problems, the restricted view may have actually contributed to the realism of the drama and maintenance of the “fourth wall”. My companion commented that being able to only see the eyes of Ricky Roma as he leaned over the back of the bench seat in the Chinese restaurant, made him seem even more like the predator he is. Damian Walshe-Howling extracted a little malice from his previous characters in Underbelly and Bikie Wars and then blended it with a little charm to bring Roma to the stage. Though small in stature and sleek in appearance, Ricky Roma had a smooth charisma and self-assurance that rose above his counterparts. Walshe-Howling was generally captivating in his mannerisms, stagecraft and nuanced delivery.

Despite the fact that it’s a tiny role, I wanted Ben Mortley to have a greater impact as the “surly detective” picking through the lies of the men desperate to keep their jobs. It would have been interesting to have an “outsider’s” view to challenge the corrupt and brutal office dynamic. As it was, Detective Baylen was a largely forgettable character. The same can’t be said for James Lingk who played Steve Turner, a regular, good, kind family man. His weakness left him susceptible to being swept up into Roma’s shark net and juxtaposed “normality” with the cut-throat world of real estate.

Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
Glengarry Glen Ross
by David Mamet

Director Kate Cherry

Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: 23 May – 14 June, 2015
Tickets: $32.50 – $82.50
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012 |

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