Bitter Wheat

Garrick Theatre
St Martin's Lane, London

Previewed: 7 June 2019
Opened: 19 June 2019
Closes: 14 September 2019

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Nearest Tube: Leicester Square

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Theatre seating plan

Show times
Monday at 7.30pm
Tuesday at 7.30pm
Wednesday at 7.30pm
Thursday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Friday at 7.30pm
Saturday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Sunday no shows

Runs ? hours and ? minutes

Seat prices
£? to £?
(plus booking fees if applicable)

Bitter Wheat

The World Premiere of David Mamet's new play Bitter Wheat in London starring John Malkovich and directed by David Mamet

Hollywood is a hell hole. Everything in Hollywood is for sale except the awards, which are only for rent.

Meet Barney Fein, a depraved Hollywood mogul and bloated monster – a studio head, who like his predecessor, the minotaur, devours the young he has lured into his cave. His fall from power to shame is a mythic journey which has been compared to The Odyssey by people who claim to have read that book.

The cast features John Malkovich as 'Barney Fein', Doon Mackichan as 'Sondra' and Ioanna Kimbook as 'Yung Kum Li', with Alexander Arnold as 'Roberto', Teddy Kempner as 'Dr Wald', Matthew Pidgeon as 'The Writer', and Zephryn Taitte as 'Charles Arthur Brown'. Directed by David Mamet with designs by Christopher Oram and lighting by Neil Austin.

When this production opened here at the Garrick Theatre in June 2019, Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph said that "the truth is that Bitter Wheat is a bitter disappointment - it doesn't add enough to the subject and, while it courts controversy, there's not enough to get the town talking... Given Mamet's dramatic skills and the sensitivity of the subject matter, what's surprising is just how dashedoff the dialogue seems... Where once Mamet's lines zinged, too often they wheeze on Zimmers; there's more chaff than wheat here." Neil Norman in the Daily Express said that "whatever skills David Mamet had as a playwright of corrosive power seem to have deserted him. This is a weak and poorly structured trawl through a series of encounters between Barney Fein and a few underwritten characters... John Malkovich at least commands the stage and delivers Mamet's caustic one-liners with his customary flair." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard thought that "the clunky production draws attention to the writing's many contrivances, not least a baffling subplot in which Barney Fein's mother is gunned down by an illegal immigrant. Despite a smattering of Mamet's famously staccato wisecracks, the play feels lazy, crude and empty." Dominic Maxwell in the Times described it as being "a wonky piece of theatre that fails by a distance to meet the huge challenge it sets itself... It feels like a first draft, its silly and unsatisfactory second half needs rewriting. David Mamet directs an oddly listless production hampered by old-fashioned, silent blackouts during scene changes... Even at its misjudged worst, though, it's too bizarre to be boring." Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail commented that, "on the one hand, the world premiere of David Mamet's new play aims to lift the lid on the sewage system that is the mind of a Hollywood sex predator. On the other, it stars John Malkovich, who manages to turn this villain into a sensationally mesmerising monster... it's impossible to take your eyes off him: his crocodile gaze is liquid hydrogen, freezing all it surveys." Alice Jones in the i newspaper explained that, "even by David Mamet's wilfully provocative standards, Bitter Wheat is a hot mess of gauche plotting, unfinished ideas and wrongheadedness... It might just be the most pointless play of the year." Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times highlighted "there’s a vital tradition of theatre using black comedy to shock audiences, challenge prejudices and reveal truths. But Bitter Wheat, a lame farce about a (fictitious) corrupt and predatory Hollywood mogul, does none of these things... a thin comedy that is upsetting for the wrong reasons."

David Mamet's plays seen recently in London include Sam Yates' revival of Glengarry Glen Ross starring Christian Slater at the Playhouse Theatre in 2017; Daniel Evans' revival of American Buffalo starring Damien Lewis and John Goodman at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2015; Lindsay Posner's revivals of Speed-the-Plow starring Lindsay Lohan at the Playhouse Theatre in 2014; Josie Rourke's revival of The Cryptogram starring Kim Cattrall and Douglas Henshall at the Donmar Warehouse in 2006; Lindsay Posner's A Life in The Theatre starring Patrick Stewart and Joshua Jackson at the Apollo Theatre in 2005; Lindsay Posner's revival of Oleanna starring Aaron Eckhart and Julia Stiles at the Garrick Theatre in 2004; Lindsay Posner's revival of Sexual Perversity In Chicago starring Matthew Perry and Minnie Driver at the Comedy Theatre (now Harold Pinter Theatre) in 2003; and Phyllida Lloyd's production of Boston Marriage starring Zoe Wanamaker and Anna Chancellor at the Donmar Warehouse and West End transfer to the Ambassadors Theatre in 2001.

John Malkovich's London stage credits include Simon Stokes' production of Dusty Hughes' play A Slip of the Tongue at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1992; and Robert Allan Ackerman's production of Lanford Wilson's play Burn This at the Hampstead Theatre and West End transfer to the Lyric Theatre in 1990.

Doon Mackichan's London theatre credits include the role of 'Feste' in Simon Godwin's revival of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre in 2017; the role of 'Frances' in Nina Raine's production of April De Angelis' comedy Jumpy at the Royal Court Theatre in 2011 and the West End transfer to the Duke of York's Theatre in 2012; the role of 'Nurse Fay' in Sean Holmes' revival of Joe Orton's comedy Loot at the Tricycle Theatre in 2008; and the role of 'Princess Diana' in Max Stafford-Clark's production of Sue Townsend's The Queen and I at the Royal Court Theatre in 1994.

"David Mamet's new comedy depicts the #MeToo movement's most notorious alleged offender in exactly the way his reputation suggests - as an unremittingly monstrous bully. And that is the problem... Granted, it is good to be in the presence of the Pulitzer-winning playwright's trademark, savage dialogue again. But the writer's own, oddly spartan, production, for which there is no music and little mood change, is a one-dimensional play that presents his villain exactly as we already imagined him. Mamet is more interested in putting the boot into his subject - an easy target - than revealing more about the human behind the headlines. Though for many, that and John Malkovich is reason enough to go." The London Metro

"John Malkovich's performance as a blubbery, bullying movie mogul, Barney Fein, revolts. His voice rarely rises above a whine, and much of me hated the evening... Yet, despite dramatic shortcomings, this is a startling, angry production that may sharpen theatre's cutlass... Fein's aide (Doon Mackichan) does nothing to stop him trapping a starlet. A doctor (Teddy Kempner) gives Fein a shot in the backside and some sexual pep pills. With lines going astray and the comic pitch veering between Malkovich's creepy realism and Kempner's caricature, the show's artistic balance wobbles... Yes, Bitter Wheat is flawed, and might have been better directed by someone other than Mamet. Yet it seethes, notably." The Sunday Times

"They say the Devil has all the best lines - and there's no doubt some of the viciously barbed comments delivered by John Malkovich, as monstrous Hollywood mogul Barney Fein, hit their comedic target... Fein's harassment of a young Anglo-Korean actress , culminating in an assault echoing revelations of the Me Too movement, makes for uncomfortable watching. But an audience waiting for him to get the punishment he deserves are ill-served by a brief second act, which descends into a farce that is both bizarre and ultimately baffling." The Sunday Mirror

"The play's first act is just about tolerable thanks to John Malkovich's central performance. He delivers Fein's Mephistophelean monologues with mesmeric power. But in the second act a young actress, whom Fein has attempted to rape, returns to give him a traditional Korean gift and he learns that his mother has been shot by an illegal immigrant. It is both crass and incredible. Meanwhile, the suggestion that Fein's sexual rapacity is compensation for his being overweight is as sick as the man himself." The Sunday Express

Bitter Wheat in London at the Garrick Theatre previewed from 7 June 2019, opened on 19 June 2019 and closes on 14 September 2019