Theatre review – American Buffalo starring Damian Lewis & John Goodman
I have been very strict with myself this year, capping my ticket prices at a lower limit. However that rule was broken this week in order to see this production at the Wyndam’s Theatre, which currently has some of the highest prices in the West End (£127.50 at the top end). I’m a huge fan of both Damian Lewis (especially the relatively unknown series Life) and John Goodman, making his London theatre debut.
The play, written by David Mamet in 1977 is certainly not an easy one to watch and requires a great deal of concentration from its audience, due to the amount of dialogue pinging between the three characters, a lot of which is pretty strong language too. Set in a Chicago junk shop run by Don (John Goodman), we learn that he is planning a robbery at the flat of a local man, who recently visited his shop and bought an American buffalo coin for $90. Feeling short changed, now believing it must have been worth much more than that, Don now wants it back (together with any other valuables on offer) and has enlisted the young, impressionable, drug addicted Bobby (Tom Sturridge) to help. Bobby clearly sees Don as a father figure and will do anything for his approval. In to this situation, enters Teach (Damian Lewis), who soon wants to be in on the job instead of Bobby. Over the course of two hours, we see their relationships shift as the day goes on and the time of the job draws nearer and the play takes on a more dark, disturbing tone.
Although quite a tough play to sit through due to the density of the dialogue (how Goodman and Lewis remember it all I do not know!), you can’t fail to be impressed by the acting of all three actors. Teach is a manic character, whose temper seems constantly on a knife edge. You get the feeling he could erupt over the slightest matter and Damian Lewis is wonderful in the role, talking at a million miles an hour, with anger, sarcasm, humour and frustration all coming to the fore at some point during the play.
In contrast John Goodman’s Don is a calmer man, who seems to grow more and more weary by the events unfolding around him. He also has a strange, paternal bond with Bobby, which tends to put him at odds with Teach, who has absolutely no time for the strange boy. Tom Sturridge is very impressive as the damaged and impressionable young Bobby. He is capable of bouts of aggression, but is also at times quite childlike in his behaviour and you sense that he is taken advantage of by a lot of people due to his personality. I’ll certainly look out for Sturridge on stage in future (he’ll be seen on television next year as Henry VI in the new Hollow Crown series).
Daniel Evans (current Artistic Director of the incredibly successful Sheffield Theatres) directs all three actors very well indeed, ensuring that each of them gives a nuanced and multi-layered performance. The choice of set is also wonderful, with so much effort having gone in to the props used to dress Don’s shop by Paul Wills and his team, so that you genuinely feel that it is brimming with items that have been building up for decades.
Overall, I enjoyed the production, but I can’t say that I think the inflated ticket prices are justified and I would strongly recommend trying for day seats if you are prepared to get up early. Day seats are £20 and I understand from the box office that they are the front row and some boxes. As the stage didn’t appear too high, this seems to be a pretty good deal for atnyone keen to see it for a more reasonable price. I would say though, don’t choose the central front row seats, as a piece of prop may possibly impede your view, so choose the seats slightly off centre.
American Buffalo continues its run at the Wyndams Theatre until 27th June 2015. For more information and ticket availability, visit its website.