Glengarry Glen Ross star Don Warrington on ‘the American dream, conscience and morality’

Don Warrington as George Aaronow in Glengarry Glen Ross. Picture: Marc Brenner

Don Warrington as George Aaronow in Glengarry Glen Ross. Picture: Marc Brenner - Credit: Archant

Belsize Park actor Don Warrington talks about his latest role in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross

Don Warrington has an understated humour that doesn’t make for an easy phone interview. It can feel he’s merely tolerating my questions about his latest role alongside Christian Slater and Kris Marshall in David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning Glengarry Glen Ross.

Is Mamet’s spare, dense dialogue as hard to master as everyone says? “We’re doing our best,” he says drily.

The ensemble piece is an excoriating takedown of the American Dream as a desperate group of Chicago estate agents lie, burgle and manipulate to triumph in a cutthroat office where only the top salesmen will survive.

Lacking confidence and self-esteem, Warrington’s ageing George is bottom of the heap in this ruthlessly hierarchised workplace.

“The environment is very testosterone filled. Men trying to make a sale. You live or die according to what you sell so it’s a pretty driven atmosphere. George has been left behind by the changes in the corporate world, he’s one of the more depressing characters.”

He adds: “It’s the speed of thought that’s difficult, Mamet is very specific with what he wants. It’s a bit like doing Shakespeare, they both have particular disciplines you have to adhere to.”

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Warrington should know, last year he climbed the acting Everest that is King Lear in an acclaimed production in Manchester.

Asked if any part is easy after Lear he says: “I would love to think that but that was that mountain, and this is this mountain. Every one is different and every mountain requires a lot of attention to detail. As an actor it doesn’t feel any easier. You just get on with what’s in front of you.”

Does he think this play has dated since its premiere at the National Theatre in the 1980s?

“It’s about the American dream, conscience and morality, about the nation in microsom. People are always in debate about what it means to be an American. I don’t think the relevance has changed, people are still trying to make a killing.”

The son of a Trinidad politician, Warrington moved to the UK as a boy, living in Warrington Road, Newcastle from where he took his stage name.

After studying at The Drama Centre in Prince of Wales Road, Kentish Town, he made his professional debut at Hampstead Theatre in 1973, playing opposite Leonard Rossiter and Frances De La Tour in Eric Chappell’s The Banana Box. It transferred to the West End and was turned into hit sit-com Rising Damp which made Warrington among the first black actors to be a household TV name.

Asked if he knew it would be a hit he says: “One expects that you do a job it ends and you move on, you don’t know what’s going to happen next. But they made it into something else and , well we all know the story.”

He’s lived around Primrose Hill for 40 years: “Primrose Hill has changed dramatically, it used to be a fairly dilapidated area where people with artistic aspirations but no money would live, I’ve stayed because I like what I know and it’s very familiar to me.”

Glengarry Glen Ross runs at The Playhouse until February 3.