The Cryptogram

Original London West End Production 1994

London Revival (Donmar Warehouse) 2006


Play by David Mamet. John cannot sleep. He is afraid to go to bed. He doesn't understand what is happening or why his father hasn't returned home. David Mamet's compelling play charts the breakdown of a family, pinpointing the moment when childhood suddenly vanishes.

David Mamet's other West End plays include American Buffalo, Boston Marriage, Glengarry Glen Ross, A Life in The Theatre, Oleanna, Sexual Perversity In Chicago and Speed-the-Plow.


Original London West End Production 1994

Previewed 13 June 1994, Opened 29 June 1994, Closed 17 September 1994 at the Ambassadors Theatre

The cast featured Lindsay Duncan as 'Donny' and Eddie Izzard as 'Del' with Danny Worters / Richard Claxton as 'John'. Directed by Gregory Mosher with designs by Bob Crowley and lighting by Rick Fisher.

David Mamet's new play is aptly called The Cryptogram: that is, a text written in cipher. But, although one doesn't so much review it as decode it, it strikes me as a fascinating piece: a dazzlingly cryptic essay about the infinite network of human betrayal... The actors also do everything possible to crack the code. Lindsay Duncan is extraordinary as Donny, showing a woman who slides into retrospective hysteria and who eventually turns on her son as if he were the source of her betrayal. Eddie Izzard as Del also seems the epitome of the trustworthy best friend - the ultimate shoulder to lean on - who turns out to be a double agent in the marital war. And Danny Worters - the first of two to play John - has the right look of wounded curiosity. It is an extremely short play - 90 minutes with needless interval. It also doesn't have the bravura virtuosity of early Mamet. But it explores the wreck we make of our lives with a compassion that suggests Mamet is moving towards a mellow maturity without sacrificing his delight in intellectual conundrums." The Guardian

"After a slow start Greg Mosher's production becomes tantalising, at times even fascinating. The problem, I think, is that the play is a set of dark, difficult feelings in search of a dramatic form that eloquently expresses them... Young John (Danny Worters) has been maddening his mother Donny (Lindsay Duncan), and to a lesser extent her gay friend Del (Eddie Izzard), by refusing to go to bed before a camping trip with his father. The conversation eddies along in realistically inconclusive style until a letter appears. Donny's husband Robert is leaving her. What is the key to this piece of human cryptography? It is unwise to be categorical about a Mamet play on a first viewing; but there seem to be no clues and no explanation except the blunt, bald one that Robert has a woman... Izzard looks woebegone, Duncan seems authentically pained, and their comings and goings are engrossing enough; but neither can convince us that Mamet has explored their characters and situation in depth. And that, surely, is because his heart is with Donny's son, not Donny. " The Times

"Fifteen years in gestation, this short three-hander gives off a strong sense of being the kind of work in which the author is trying to externalise and come to terms with some deep childhood trauma. As often happens in such cases, though, the line between what possesses profound private meaning for the writer and what he has succeeded in objectifying on stage seems to have grown fuzzy... Although it should lose the disastrous and unnecessary interval after the first scene, Gregory Mosher's fine production is keenly sensitive to the rhythm of the piece - accumulative tension played off against the comedy of repeated anticlimaxes, as whistling kettles, say, or sudden losses of invention, distract people from making the overwhelming statement. The cast copes wonderfully with Mamet's fractured, groping, camouflaging dialogue, performing on a set by Bob Crowley which, with its vast staircase and nightmare-dark walls, shows you the house from the boy's overwrought, incipiently pubertal perspective." The Independent

The Cryptogram in London at the Ambassadors Theatre previewed from 13 June 1994, opened on 29 June 1994 and closed on 17 September 1994


London Revival (Donmar Warehouse) 2006

Previewed 12 October 2006, Opened 17 October 2006, Closed 25 November 2006 at the Donmar Warehouse

The cast featured Kim Cattrall as 'Donny' and Douglas Henshall as 'Del' with Oliver Coopersmith / Joe Ashman / Adam Brown as 'John. Directed by Josie Rourke with designs by Peter McKintosh and lighting by Neil Austin.

"The first mystery is what a Cryptogram is and that's easily answered any kind of code or cipher that needs a key to expose its hidden message. The second is harder to solve: What made Michael Grandage's usually admirable Donmar Warehouse management decide that this old David Mamet play first and last seen in London 12 years ago was worth a revisit?... What we know of Mamet is that, like the boy in his play, he was about ten in the Chicago suburbs in 1959, which is when and where the play is set though the programme notes never make this clear. Even at only an hour, and with that added dimension, The Cryptogram seems vastly too long and neither Kim Cattrall nor Oliver Coopersmith, nor Douglas Henshall as the only other character - a gay friend - manage to command our interest or attention. The production by Josie Rourke crucially lacks the raw energy that Eddie Izzard and Lindsay Duncan brought to the first London staging in 1994 and the play itself seems to drift around for a while, as if Mamet himself can't quite recall what this memory play is supposed to be remembering." The Daily Express

"A three-hander notionally set in Chicago in 1959, it's a heavily symbolic loss-of-innocence story in which a young boy, his mother and her enigmatic male friend exchange cryptic rounds of stylised dialogue that move rapidly outward from the boy's father's disappearance to such topics as memory, perception and isolation... A realistic narrative of sorts eventually emerges from Mamet's allusive, intricately repetitive dialogue. For much of the time, though, the three characters could be in any number of configurations of domestic catastrophe, making it hard to keep up with the play's flickeringly suggested mystico-philosophical themes... Although the production doesn't strike the perfect balance between stylisation and naturalism that the text seems to demand, the performers cope heroically with the rhythms of Mamet's dialogue. The child acting is especially impressive. After a metronomic start, Henshall gives a fine performance. And Kim Cattrall is startlingly good...Nevertheless, the play itself seems over-packed and too well suited to academic explication. It runs for 65 minutes and feels longer." The Sunday Telegraph

"This is a hard, ruthless, cruel play. David Mamet is a hard, ruthless, cruel writer, a hardline realist, an American Ibsen, and like the grim old grouser, he creates characters who don't ask for, and seldom deserve, much sympathy... Kim Cattrall's performance is poised, heaving with emotion, but thoughtfully controlled: a masterclass. Donny is a proud, sensual woman, fulfilled and dignified, but more vulnerable and fragile than she thinks. Robert's betrayal is like a brutal ambush and Donny is the wounded beast, helpless and uncomprehending... The Cryptogram demands complete attention. A cryptogram is something written in code: you need to decipher it. Look for clues. How long has Robert's note been lying there? Who brought it? Like some of Mamet's films , this play is a moral detective thriller, a drama of forensic passion: Mamet is tracking down some crime at the root of human relations. "If we spoke the truth," says Del, "we could be free." But he's wrong. In Mamet's world the truth is like lies: it brings destruction." The Sunday Times

The Cryptogram in London at the Donmar Warehouse previewed from 12 October 2006, opened on 17 October 2006 and closed on 25 November 1996