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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
by Lizzie Loveridge

You are not where you belong.
--- the Fortune Teller
Kenneth Branagh as Edmond
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
When Kenneth Branagh expresses an interest in returning to the London stage after an absence of eleven years, the National Theatre asks him which play he wants to do. That is why Londoners have a revival of David Mamet's 1983 play Edmond about a New York businessman's descent from respectability to murder and prison. In a parallel with Milton's Paradise Lost, Mamet's Edmond creates his own hell after a chance encounter with a fortune teller unsettles him.

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.
Written by David Mamet
Directed by Edward Hall

Starring: Kenneth Branagh
With: Carol Macready, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Tony Haygarth, Elli Garnett, Robert Horwell, David Kennedy, Nicola Stephenson, Adam Levy, Andrew Dolan, Jude Akuwudike, Iain Mitchell, Andrew Westfield, Rebecca Johnson, Stephen Greif, Tom Marshall, Harry Towb, Nicola Walker, Joseph Mydell, Nonso Anozie
Designer: Michael Pavelka
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Sound: Terry Davies and Paul Groothuis
Running time: One hour 15 minutes with no interval .
Under the Travelex sponsored scheme, two thirds of the seats are available at &#pound;10 each.
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking to 4th October 2003 but in repertory with Henry V, His Girl Friday and Tales From the Vienna Woods
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th July 2003 Performance at the Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, Upper Ground London SE1 (Tube/Rail Station: Waterloo)

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