A Mametspeak masterclass for actors in Company of Ten plays

Tim Pemberton as Emil Varec and George Edkins as George Aaronovitz in Duck Variations

Tim Pemberton as Emil Varec and George Edkins as George Aaronovitz in Duck Variations - Credit: Archant

Five seasoned players at the Company of Ten have had their work cut out preparing for the forthcoming David Mamet Double Bill at the Abbey Theatre.

The Shawl and Duck Variations were written early on in Mamet’s playwriting career, and are prime examples of his particular writing style. The sparse, clipped dialogue is reminiscent of such playwrights as Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett, from whom he admits he has drawn inspiration, but at the same time, it’s so distinctive that it has been labelled “Mametspeak”.

Cynical and street smart, this type of dialogue often uses italics and quotation marks to highlight words and to draw attention to his characters’ frequent manipulation and deceitful use of language. For example, in The Shawl, the characters constantly interrupt each other and the dialogue overlaps.

As director Jo Emery points out: “This makes for highly exciting theatre, but creates a huge technical and psychological challenge for the actors learning and performing it. They have to fill in the gaps and second guess what the characters would have said, had they been allowed to finish their sentences. Not an easy task for any actor.”

Mamet’s stories often involve small-time con artists, dubious real estate salesmen, and other, often alienated people on the edge of society. For that reason they tend to be unfettered by the niceties of polite conversation. They come straight to the point, sometimes quite colourfully.

In The Shawl, the themes of trickery and deceit are demonstrated when a would-be con artist and his young counterpart plan to swindle a young woman out of her inheritance. Through plot twists and turns, the unpredictable outcome leaves the audience gasping, and wondering just who has been scamming whom?

The second play of the evening, Duck Variations presents two elderly Jewish men who spend their time sitting on a park bench, letting the day go by, whilst watching the ducks on the lake. Through 14 short scenes, full of irony, humour and pathos, we see a relationship unfold which gives us a unique window into Mamet’s view on life and the human condition.

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Performances take place in the Abbey Theatre Studio from Friday June 5 to Saturday 6 at 8pm; on Sunday 7 at 2.30pm; and from Tuesday 9 to Saturday 13 at 8pm. To book tickets go to www.abbeytheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 01727 0857861