by David Mamet.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 29 June 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed 2.30pm & Sat 3pm.
Audio-described 15 June 3pm (+ Touch Tour 1.30pm).
Captioned 25 June.
Runs 1hr 25min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 June.
Skilfully contrived and presented, though art doesn’t entirely conceal art.
With his usual incisive dialogue and razor-argument, David Mamet examines racial politics through the world of lawyers as he did sexual politics among academia in 1992’s Oleanna. In both it’s the toppling of assumed hierarchy that matters most.
Tim Shortall’s design gives the play an epic sweep. An old-world of bound books on shelves in a large room looks through a huge window onto New York’s gleaming, impersonal glass towers, where even the Empire State generation of skyscraper is a distant midget, or a reflection.
In this office legal eagles, or vultures, Jack Lawson (White) and Henry Brown (Black) weigh-up whether to defend White billionaire Charles Strickland against a Black woman’s rape allegation. Strickland, who admits sex but denies rape, silently bespeaks wealth and power; Charles Daish gives him a grey-bouffant hairstyle and craggy features recalling Bill Clinton, upon whose presidential career also lay the stain of sexual impropriety.
Yet Strickland’s story slips out of the room pretty much as the lawyers dismiss him to write his story. In its place emerges the case of their Black employee Susan, sitting on a window-ledge silently with notebook, then sent on errands before voicing her own allegations.
It’s fascinating to see her viewpoint emerge from her silent compliance amid the confident hot-shot lawyers’ opinions. But it also stretches credulity, as does the convenient emergence of new light on Strickland’s case. Such evidence is always contrived in a play; the skill is to prevent it seeming so. Here the slip that starts Susan’s own investigative trail, and new details dismissing the Strickland story now a more interesting one of office politics is emerging, seem like the writer’s manipulations rather than a natural course of events.
Which doesn’t deny some gripping argument in Terry Johnson’s accomplished production. Charles Daish is tactfully restrained as the usually dominant Strickland, while there’s notable contrast between Jasper Britton as the grandstanding lawyer, an emotional leader and bully of juries, and Clarke Peters as his Black partner, a dry, observant and shrewd strategist. And Nina Toussaint-White’s Susan develops a smooth assertion which never lets go of the essential point.
Jack Lawson: Jasper Britton.
Charles Strickland: Charles Daish.
Henry Brown: Clarke Peters.
Susan: Nina Toussaint-White.
Director: Terry Johnson.
Designer: Tim Shortall.
Lighting: Mark Henderson.
Dialect coach: Richard Ryder.
Associate director: Adam Lensom.