An ode to Glengarry Glen Ross: Why I'm sold on  Mamet’s masterpiece 

 

One of David Mamet's greatest plays has landed in London, and sees Christian Slater taking on (and mastering) the role of top sales dog Ricky Roma. Here's why Glengarry Glen Ross is a must-see this autumn

November 2017

It's a pretty undisputed fact among film buffs that Jack Lemmon’s performance as Shelly Levene in the 1992 film version of Glengarry Glen Ross is a slice of cinematic genius. But Levene's fall from grace is actually best witnessed from the depths of a hushed theatre. Why? Because this is a play that's all about the rhythm, cadence and sound of language, the despair of a good thing gone bad, the desperate struggle of ego and masculinity. It's a play really best witnessed in the flesh.

Sam Yates' production, which runs until 3 February, splits open the cut-throat world of a Chicago realtor, giving us a bunch of salesmen willing to go to any lengths to make that all-important sale. In this world, everyone's out to flog something – whether it be plots of land or some gilded version of the American dream – and will call on any sales technique (lies, flattery, bribery, intimidation) to do so. 

In Shelly Levene, we see a man reduced to his most desperate self. But what makes Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross so powerful is that it's about more than just one man's undoing. This is a collective moral bankruptcy; a stark portrayal of American capitalistic culture at its grubbiest. 

 

Stanley Townsend is wonderful as the endearingly flawed Levene – particularly in the scene depicting his sale of $82,000 worth of land to the aging Bruce and Harriett Nyborg. Sashaying across the stage, dipping and spinning like a weighty, slow-moving boxer, Levene hums with newfound self-belief and the promise of what this sale means: not just a top spot on the leaderboard, but professional (and perhaps personal) redemption. 

 

Part of Mamet’s brilliant depiction of this real estate office is, of course, the script,  loaded with profanities and at once riotously funny and desperately tragic. Every word counts for these men, and language is employed to take fire, cajole, emasculate and humiliate. Language is ammunition. As such, the unfolding of events is often fast-paced and frenetic, and conversations (such as that between Moss and Aaronow in Act I) are full of double meaning, language masking real truth at every turn.

 

And what of Ricky Roma? Another great character (played masterfully by Christian Slater), he might have some of the play's best lines, but it's his relationship with Levene that reveals the better side of each man, in turn making Levene's fall all the more wretched. Their relationship is yet another strangely unpredictable aspect of the play: just when you think you have a handle on the characters, they go and give you the slip. It's what makes Mamet's writing so suspenseful and so entertaining.

 

So if you’re in the market for two hours of theatrical brilliance – and Christian Slater playing Ricky Roma like he was born to do it – go see Glengarry Glen Ross. You won’t regret it.

 

 

Glengarry Glen Ross, London Playhouse Theatre, until 3 February 2018.

5 things every tourist should know before visiting Barcelona 

Using the all-knowing internet as a guide, here’s what went right (and wrong) during a recent trip to Barcelona – and what two hapless touristas learnt as a result

29 July 2017

 

1. Don't miss Tantarantana for top-drawer Peruvian tapas

Stumbling across a restaurant like this (think sun-dappled courtyard and the hum of local diners) is what should happen on a city break, but so often doesn't (see point two below). Tantarantana's head chef puts a ceviche twist on traditional tapas, and quite simply, it works: fresh cod with coriander, red onion and a generous squeeze of lime, is a winner, as are the braised pigs' cheeks (meltingly tender and full of flavour). And definitely order the chicken curry croquettas, which sound gross but are actually completely delicious: mildly spicy with a kick of mustard seed. 

 

2. Never trust TripAdvisor (the most unreliable of weathervanes) 

‘Let’s get out of these tourist-packed streets!’ we cried. ‘Let’s eschew the Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus of Barcelona, and head for authentic Spanish fare in a neighbourhood restaurant, with locals quaffing good wine at every table.’ For all intents and purposes, Leku in the Les Corts district of the city, was exactly that: traditional Spanish fare and good-looking diners in crisp shirts and expensive brogues. But not only are the waiters pretty rude, but the food is horrendous. If it isn't chewy squid in something akin to sweet custard, it's flabby pigs' trotters or syrupy sorbet that's so sweet your teeth ache. Avoid.

 

3. Book everything in advance

'Mañana, mañana' might be how the Spanish saying goes. But Barcelona, which might be all leisurely ambles and three-hour tapas sit-ins, isn't as laid back as you might think. As one of the most visited cities in Europe, its sights are swarming with likeminded tourists, all on the hunt for an Intagram-worthy vista or prime selfie spot. And in mid-July every tourist attraction we visited (including La Sagreda Familia, the Picasso Museum and Park Güell) was sold out and required booking (often days in advance). Make like someone with freakishly good organisational skills and get booking early: Gaudi's architectural masterpieces can't be missed.

 

4. The aquarium isn't just for kids

If you're looking for respite from high-brow sights and sounds, Barcelona's aquarium (home to 11,000 animals and 450 species) should be your first port of call (quite literally, it's in the actual port). For €20, expect to see sharks, penguins and clown fish ('Is NEMO! Is NEMO!'), and be mesmerised by pulsating jellies and slow-gliding flatfish. Yes, you'll come across the occasional wailing infant and shovy tourist, but hey – this is a family attraction and it's the 21st century. You've kind of got to get used to it.

5. Don't be afraid to go back to great spots like Lexi's

This bar and restaurant draws a mixed crowd, but our favourites were two well-dressed old ladies with miniature dogs who meet here every weekday at six for a G&T and neighbourly gossip. Apart from the fact that the waiters are super friendly, the wine is great and the pan con tomate is – ohmygod – so good. And if you think that pan con tomate can't be anything but good, I'd point you towards a couple of cafes near La Rambla where this very much wasn't the case (stale bread, flavourless tomatoes, no seasoning whatsoever etc etc). Bread aside, places like Lexi's are worth revisting: when you've found a gem it just makes perfect tourist sense to head back again, right? Other winners for us were Casa Jaime (great mussels) and Vigo (decent arroz negro, even better paella).

 

 

5 things you should know about Finsbury Park pop-up Farang

 While gentrification takes with one hand (say goodbye to local caffs and anything akin to affordable housing), it can, occasionally, give with another – pop-up Thai Farang being a case in point. Jess Pike gives you the lowdown

 

Friday 7 July 2017 

1. When it comes to Thai food, founder and head chef Seb Holmes has some serious skills
The fact that he's written a cookbook on Thai cuisine suggests that ex-Smoking Goat head chef Holmes clearly knows his stuff – and this is someone who's as big on on visuals as he is on flavour: our two curry dishes (the green with Cornish stone bass and tiger prawns, and the red with spring chicken and minced tiger prawn) were resplendent with fronds of red pepper, iridescent slices of onion, and crunchy nests of bean sprout. 

2. The tea-smoked duck breast is a complete show-stopper 
This small plate was an out-and-out winner: the fragrant tea flavours lift the richness of the pink duck, and the chill jaew (Thai dried chilli dipping sauce) was hot and sweet, without being mind-blowing. Plus, thumbs up for the garlicky pak choi, soft but with a bit of crunch, and full of stocky flavour.

 

3. Four plates – three big and one small – is plenty for two
The main dishes here are pretty generous, so you'll probably need no more than one per person - although they arrive when they're ready and it's really more of a sharing/Thai tapas-type scenario. If you want to mix up your carbs, go for rice and roti: the roti – elastic, buttery deliciousness with a hint of turmeric – is a revelation.   

4. They’re almost definitely open until January 2018
If you’re up for D&Ms and mood lighting, Farang probably isn’t for you. But if it’s explosions of colour, big flavours and the hum of excitable diners you're looking for, this will be right up your street (perhaps even quite literally). And although packed in the way London pop-ups often are, we were told by a reliable source that it's “99%” certain that they’ll extend the lease until January 2018. 


5. Go! It’s great! But don’t forget about Finsbury Park's other gems
Okay, so Finsbury Park isn’t quite the Østerbro district of Copenhagen (more fancy restaurants that you can shake a stick at), but it is home to some pretty good local fare (La Sardegna and La Fabrica being personal faves). Here’s hoping Farang’s well-deserved success will raise the culinary bar in this north London borough – whilst simultaneously reminding its patrons that you don’t always have to leave the comforts of N4 or N5 for a pretty memorable plate of food.

What's the damage?

£75 for a bottle of wine, two main dishes, one small dish, and rice and roti.

Farang, 72 Highbury Park East, N5 2XE

www.faranglondon.co.uk

020 7226 1609

 

 

Corfu: Exceeding all expectations

 Corfu, the second largest of the Ionian Islands, is so much more than brash Brits abroad and €5 fry-ups. Recent island convert Jess Pike shares her recommendations

 

Friday 30 June 2017 

 

By the time we’d landed in Corfu, there was a distinct lack of goodwill in the air. One of us had left the snorkel in Finsbury Park, the other had lost the disposable camera (yep, 

#firstworldproblems) and somewhere along the line, we’d both suffered a severe sense of humour failure. I don’t know who looked more pissed off: the guy at passport control or my tired, slightly petulant, 31-year-old boyfriend.

 

As we edged our way to baggage reclaim (forecast: frosty), it struck me that we had very little idea of what to expect from this, one of the most visited Greek islands. Would it be the unspoilt utopia of Durrell’s writings or prime destination for those seeking the comforts of the all-inclusive? Would it still hold some of the magic of its smaller neighbouring islands or would its reputation for boozed-up Brits abroad prevail?

 

After 10 days I pretty much had the answers. And it turns out that Corfu is something quite different: much more than just beaches, ouzo and hedonistic holidaymakers. This is an island that’s as much about the grilled octopus, affable taxi drivers, gryos and cascading bourgainvillea as it is the showstopping views (better than any postcard) and hilltop villages. Here’s what we loved – and learnt.

1. Hire a car!    
Corfu is pretty expansive (39 miles long and 17 miles wide) so if you want to explore the rugged coastline as well as the beaches, you'll need to hire a car. Our trusty Peugeot 206 carried us from the verdant coastline of the south to the pine forest hills of the east, but word to the wise: Corfu’s pretty mountainous, so be prepared for tight bends and sharp corners. And if a dinky model will suffice, go for it. These roads were not built for 4x4s.

2. Corfu Old Town is dreamy
The Old Town – a UNESCO World Heritage site – is definitely worth an amble (although you might find the lure of the sprawling island and its greenery too much, and de-camp, like we did, after a couple of days). Worth seeing is the old fortress, an imposing structure that juts out from the coastline (where we witnessed a Greek man in his eighties attempting to climb the parapet, much to the concern of the group tour guide). And if you’re up for sites rather than just ambles and ice cream, the Museum of Asian Art is pretty interesting: if not for the building itself, pockmarked by shell and bullet holes, but for the Japanese art, and cool, marble interior.

3. Lakones: Hairpin bends are worth it for the stunning views

The slightly alarming ascent up to this hill-top village is well worth it for the panoramas and 18th century stone houses. Although located on the busy thoroughfare, Eftichis Traditional Cafe is a pretty spot for an iced coffee – but it’s Dolce Café on the winding road down to the coast that really wowed us. After rising tensions in the car (backseat driver issues), this was the perfect opportunity to a) thank the Lord for car insurance, b) sample some delicious Greek cheesecake and c) gaze down at the stunning coastline stretching out before us.

4. Palaiokastritsa: Impossible to pronounce but pretty idyllic 

If beaches are your thing, but you prefer to sun-worship safe in the knowledge that a shady watering hole isn’t more than a stone’s throw away, the beaches of Palaiokastritsa are for you. Famed for their clear, sparkling waters, many are only reachable by boat – but if you’d prefer to remain land-based, definitely take a look at Agia Triada beach. The upmarket restaurant here pumps out Ibiza house music at a socially acceptable volume, and serves good seafood and super-strong cocktails - although expect to pay slightly more than you would in more traditional tavernas.

5. Benitses: More than just penis trinkets

According to Google, Benitses was once a popular nightspot for Brits abroad, so we weren’t quite sure what to expect - other than fry-ups, Stella and sunburn. But although its small beach won’t win any prizes, Benitses’ strip of tavernas and its brightly lit square are quite a draw: book a table at Klimataria-Nikos Bellos, where the pastisada (pasta with traditional Greek ragu) is finger lickin' good, and you can watch angelic-looking Greek children thump each other in time to the strums of the bouzouki. You’ll also get the chance to marvel at some of the most garish holiday trinkets we think we’ve ever seen (penis-shaped ashtray, anyone?)

6. Lake Korission: Less about the lake, more about the beaches 
Unlike the sheltered beaches of Palaiokastritsa, the coastline on the south westerly stretch of the island is relatively exposed, something reflected in the rugged landscape and groups of tanned, sinewy kite surfers taking advantage of strong winds and deserted waters. The lake itself is worth a look (apparently it’s host to flamingos in the summer) but the real draw here is the rugged coastline. And sinewy surfers. Obviously.

 

7. Aqualand: Fun for event the biggest wimps out there

For a water park virgin like myself, Aqualand wasn’t top of the priority list – but after some persuasion (‘You’ll be able to sunbathe and eat gyros”), off we sped, goggles and structurally-sound swimsuits in hand. For €20 each, expect to hurtle down flumes, float leisurely around the Lazy River and squeeze your ass into giant inflatable rings that are not easy to get out of. And yes, it’s true – sunbathing and gyros are totally feasible options.
Open every day: 10am-6pm.

 

8. Agios Gordios: Eat, drink, tan, repeat

For rustic tavernas (read: no pumping house music) and a stunning coastline, Agios Gordios is the place to be. The beaches are organised, the waters are calm and clear, and all that's required is the occasional ice-cold mythos and mid-afternoon plate of calamari. And with free parking and cheap taverna prices, this is holiday heaven for minimal dollar.  

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Where to stay in Corfu Old Town: We plumped for the Hotel Cavalieri, which is well-located and worth a visit for the rooftop bar/restaurant alone: the cocktails might be phosphorescent, but the views out across the sparkling Aegean really are Instagram-worthy (see photographic evidence above).

 

Where to stay outside the capital: Not only did they have a huge pool, a menagerie of animals, and cake for breakfast (what more could you want?) but the hosts at Brentanos Apartments were super lovely. Well positioned for sunsets too.

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