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Review: American Buffalo at the Kings Arms is ‘intense, quirky and thrilling’

American Buffalo at the Kings Arms, Salford is 'intense, quirky and well performed' - with an incredible cast and impressive direction.
American Buffalo

David Mamet plays rely on a gifted cast to deliver front-loaded dialogue filled with repetition, wit, anger, and fire, which is often delivered at 100 mph,

I have seen some productions where some of this has been missed, and you end up with something quite stilted.

American Buffalo at The Kings Arms, Salford

American Buffalo
Photo credit: Shay Rowan

In 2019, the combination of this Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and the majestic John Malkovich in the godawful Bitter Wheat left a bad taste in the mouth. A thinly veiled Harvey Weinstein figure limping across the stage, lame gags and a performance beneath the actor meant that if you were new to Mamet’s writing, you may not ever go there again.

So, five years later, having the opportunity to revisit this Chicago-set drama set in a run-down junk shop, featuring three small-time crooks, is really welcome.

It highlights what a feat it is to deliver dynamic dialogue which, when it is done right, hits you like a speeding bullet from John Wick’s gun.

Colin Connor as Don Bubrow

Don Dubrow (Colin Connor) is the owner of a Chicago junk shop where many of the items sit gathering dust. He sells a buffalo nickel for $90 but realises it could be worth much more. So he enlists a young gofer named Bob (John O’Neil) to steal it back.

Enter Teach (David MacCreedy), a poker pal of Don’s, who persuades him that Bob is too young and green, and suggests he takes his place to carry out the burglary.

David Thacker’s knowing direction

What follows is a gripping, tense and fast-paced piece of theatre, directed with a real knowing eye by David Thacker.

If anyone knows how to coax a great performance from a performer, it’s Thacker. And he has three great actors here, each bringing something different to this fast talking, funny and frenetic play.

Colin Connor is front and centre and as he sits in his run down store, surrounded by junk, and so are you.

Superb set design

The set design perfectly conveys the randomness of the stock which enters the store – unloved and never sold, which pretty much reflects the characters and how they perceive themselves, as they strive to get more money .

Connor’s accent is spot on. His face is etched with disappointment as he takes you to the Windy City via Salford.  And he really draws you into to this tale of desperation and frustration.

John O’Neil is heartbreakingly good as the obedient puppy dog-like Bob who aims to please and wants to lead from the front and be somebody, but is treated like a nobody.

He is so authentic that as the plan goes out of control, you pray that he will come out of the mess unscathed. He is immersed in this role and never comes up for air.

David MacCready has the anger, his eyes are filled with flames, as he positions himself as top dog, willing to step on anything or anyone that gets in his way.

His accent wavers a bit and he keeps coming in and out of Americanisms. But he is frighteningly real when Teach loses it and he destroys the set, throwing the cheap junk across the floor with so much force and uncontrolled anger, that you find yourself you ducking for cover.

American Buffalo may not have the power and punch of Mamet’s evergreen classic Glengarry Glen Ross, which still thrills today.

It is smaller and quirkier but it still offers you an intense and claustrophobic night at the theatre.

Tickets for American Buffalo at the Kings Arms

And the spot on performances, sure footed direction and superb set design means that you feel like you have wandered into a private conversation about a heist by mistake. Once you take your seat, there is nowhere to hide.

American Buffalo is at the Kings Arms, Salford until 24th March. Tickets can be booked here

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