Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Theatre review: American Buffalo

I don't really get what everyone sees in Damian Lewis, whose last stage appearance irritated me greatly, but I wasn't going to miss the chance to see John Goodman on stage - especially after his turn as one of the season villains on Damages. David Mamet's 1975 classic American Buffalo is what brings Goodman to London, to play Don, owner of a chaotic junk store. A few days earlier a customer paid him $90 for a rare buffalo-head nickel, and upon discovering that the man was a coin collector Don is convinced he got a lot less than its true worth for it. He has another buyer in mind but first he needs the buffalo back, and he plans to send in Bobby (Tom Sturridge,) a junkie he has a sort of fatherly care for, to burgle it from the man's house. Bobby's been casing the joint, and has seen the target leave with bags for what looks like a weekend trip away, so all seems to be ready.

But when his poker buddy Teach (Lewis) finds out about the plan, he convinces Don that the younger man is a liability, and he should cut Bobby out of the deal and send him in to do the burglary instead.

Daniel Evans' production has a set by Paul Wills that overhangs the Wyndhams proscenium arch with junk, while tons more hangs over the set which is similarly crammed with rubbish - all the action takes place in this junk shop, so it's clear from the start that Don's life is literally full of crap, and the one object of value might have just slipped through his fingers.

As with a lot of Mamet American Buffalo takes a while to warm up, plunging us straight into the relationship between Don and Bobby and only later introducing the audience to the plot that's been going on in the background. But once it does it's a quietly gripping story, the not-too-bright characters having endeared themselves quickly, and looking like they might be lurching into a dangerous situation. But the play actually has a different kind of direction in mind, and the two characters become the heart of it. Goodman doesn't disappoint, his gruff but warm presence perfect for Don, and Sturridge is also excellent as the jittery junkie constantly asking for money for reasons he's not willing to disclose.

I'm still not convinced that Lewis is as good as people seem to think - he's fine as the pornstached Teach, the most dangerous of the three idiots because he doesn't know he's an idiot, but makes the least impact of the three. Still, clearly a lot of people were there just to see him, going by the people behind me who didn't see any need to stop their conversation until he had entered. Under all the swearing and violence this is an evening with a surprisingly warm heart though, and it's worth seeing for Goodman and Sturridge's complex but touching relationship alone.

American Buffalo by David Mamet is booking until the 27th of June at Wyndhams Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes including interval.

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