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The Ron Barber Studio at Birmingham's Crescent Theatre is an excellent, little – sorry, intimate space with an interesting and varied programme of shows. This production of David Mamet's 1975 three-hander maintains the high standard. It is an absorbing and powerful evening in the company of a trio of low-life petty criminals as they plan a burglary in the back room of a cluttered and dismal junk shop.

The shop is run by Donny (Gerry Lucas), who bankrolls and 'masterminds' the job – in as far as his limited abilities allow. He is a bit of a soft touch, especially when it comes to the younger of his acquaintances, Bobby (Michael Radford) and tends to lose patience with the more neurotic Teach (Colin Simmonds). Mamet's language is earthy and deceptively naturalistic. Add to that, the humour, the underlying sense of menace and the low-level crime, and you have something akin to an American Pinter – this has been noted by others before me. I rather think Mamet is the link between Pinter and Tarantino. Without Mamet, Reservoir Dogs, for example, would be a very different film.

The cast is impeccable. Sleazeball Teach is very funny and yet repugnant and unsettling. Colin Simmonds is note perfect – when Teach finally blows his top and trashes the shop, it is an exhilarating release of the tension that has built up throughout the evening. And what a set it is! Cluttered with details, messy and lived in – this is a credible and workable environment. Colin Judges and his construction team have recreated a corner of 1975. In that studio space, the audience is almost sitting around the card table with the characters.

Mark Thompson's direction keeps the pace up – the set may be cluttered but the action has room to grow, the characters have space to reveal themselves.

Michael Radford's Bobby is sensitive, barely able to articulate his thoughts. You wonder what would become of him with a different pair of role models. Donny is the indulgent father figure, peeling off banknotes and offering dietary advice. Here I must make special mention of the Chicagoan accents. Vocal coach Jaz Davison has equipped the cast with authentic intonations. I couldn't fault them.

Gerry Lucas's performance is the lynch pin of the production and the key to understanding the play. Crime and business are held up as two sides of the same coin – not the rare coin that gives the play its title and the plot its impetus, but a bent, two-headed one. The men approach the burglary as a business venture. At best, they are amoral. This is their version of the American Dream – the right of every man to turn a profit. They are self-serving capitalists and, the play shows us, that road leads to ruin. Donny's ill-advised loans to Bobby, the inability to handle setbacks (a fourth, unseen accomplice is hospitalised), the use of force and the destruction of the shop (marketplace) all point towards disaster. Suddenly, Mamet's thirty-odd year old play is bang up-to-date and relevant to fiscal policy and the current financial crisis.


By williamstafford

Audience Feedback

The set was absolutely stunning, two hours spent with the set and my eyes would consistently dart about the stage finding more and more interesting props. I wasn't a great fan of the play itself just by personal preference, but the performances and the attention to detail technically made for a thorougly enjoyable afternoon.
The New York accent isn't particularly an easy one, while it is often greatly exaggerated the tonality and the delivery of the three leads was superb. Every line felt natural and unscripted, and the characters were really felt just through the dialogue.


An excellent production of a particularly difficult play. The set was superb; many congratulation for that - a lot of hard work must have gone into it. Fine acting too - Mamet is particularly demanding and violence is never easy to pull off on stage.
I love coming to the Crescent to see famous relatively contemporary plays. I've only ever been in the studio and it always seems a shame that more people aren't attracted to see interesting plays such as American Buffalo, Arcadia, The Homecoming, Top Girls and the like. Your staff are always very friendly and welcoming. Well done them.


Everything about this production works - the script has the right mixture of humour, depth and darkness; the direction has pace and timing; the acting is flawless and the three characters play off each other perfectly; and the set is astounding. The climax is like nothing I've seen in theatre. Spiffing!


I was first of all very impressed by the quality of the set which painted its own picture about the character of Donny and the world he inhabits. Secondly I felt the  direction of the play had vision and flair. The space was well used and the characters moved around the set in ways that expressed their feelings towards each other and the situations being created. The naturalistic and sympathetic performances which all three actors made  totally believable. These were real characters which were well defined making it easy to relate to them and to feel a reaction to their relationships with each other. I paid for a good night out and wasn't disappointed!


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The Crescent Theatre, Sheepcote Street, Birmingham B16 8AE. Company No: 699933, Charity No: 245054