David Mamet's hilarious and poignant play about two actors - stage veteran 'Robert', and aspiring newcomer 'John'. Set both on stage and behind the scenes in a fading small town rep theatre, it follows their friendship and their rivalry as they battle with the cruel uncertainties of their profession. Inspired by David Mamet's own early backstage experiences and brief career as an actor the play is an acutely observed, bittersweet comedy that delivers all the absurdity, the joy and the heartache of a life in the theatre.
Original London Production 1979 with Freddie Jones
Opened 18 July 1979, Closed 25 August 1979 at the Open Space
The cast featured Freddie Jones as 'Robert', Patrick Ryecart as 'John', and Gerramy Quarto as 'Stage Manager'.
Directed by Alan Pearlman, with sets by Robert Dein, costumes by Frances Haggett, and lighting by Francis Reid.
The Open Space was a notable central London fringe theatre, seating around 130, that was located at 303-307 Euston Road, in a former Post Office.
Original West End London Production 1989 with Denholm Elliott
Previewed 24 October, Opened 31 October 1989, Closed 10 December 1989 at the Haymarket Theatre
Transferred 13 December 1989, Closed 25 February 1990 at the Strand Theatre (now Novello Theatre)
The cast featured Denholm Elliott as 'Robert', and Samuel West as 'John'.
Directed by Bill Bryden, with sets by Hayden Griffin, costumes by Adrian Gwillym, and lighting by Rory Dempster.
Although initially scheduled for a limited seven week run at the Haymarket Theatre, this production transferred to the Strand Theatre where it completed a run of 18-weeks in total.
This production played an eight-performances-a-week schedule: Tuesday to Saturday evenings, with afternoon matinees on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, at both theatres.
1st West End London Revival 2005 with Patrick Stewart
Previewed 27 January 2005, Opened 2 February 2005, Closed 30 April 2005 at the Apollo Theatre
A major revival of David Mamet's play A Life in the Theatre in London starring Patrick Stewart and Joshua Jackson
The cast featured Patrick Stewart as 'Robert', and Joshua Jackson as 'John'.
Directed by Lindsay Posner, with designs by Giles Cadle, lighting by Neil Austin, and sound by Matt McKenzie.
"Joshua Jackson made his British stage debut last night opposite our own RSC veteran Patrick Stewart in David Mamet's brilliantly querulous two-handed backstage satire A Life In The Theatre... It is a very early work by the great American dramatist and sure, it still looks a little sketchy and fragmented... What makes his A life In The Theatre such a joy is its constant mix of acid satire and over-whelming sympathy. Mamet clearly both loves and hates theatre folk, and his play brilliantly skewers the luvvies even while it explains how and why they do what they insist, against all odds, on doing. Posner's production even subtly hints that there maybe a suppressed gay connection between the two men, certainly on the part of the Stewart character; but it is their differing love for the stage itself that really matters in a play I believe should be staged by and for all drama students who wish to understand the profession they hope to enter." The Daily Express
"Self-absorption among actors is not unknown. Here is an entire play devoted to the subject - and what a crashing bore much of it is. This is a pity, for the production's stars, Patrick Stewart and Joshua Jackson, are good... the acting is not the problem here. It's just the dreary, plodding play. David Mamet may be fashionable, but he is plainly not faultless... The show's turgid first scene has the characters talking self-indulgently outside the stage door of their theatre, chewing over that night's performance. It has more pauses than high Pinter and on Wednesday's opening night was punctuated only by the hysterical, forced laughter of a few obviously planted supporters in the audience... There are a few half-hearted strands of storyline, but the movement comes from various scenes in Robert and John's plays... Mr Stewart is a pleasure to watch. Mr Jackson, who has appeared in Dawson's Creek on telly, does not put a foot wrong. But this was a poor choice of play for their talents." The Daily Mail
"The play is almost always engaging, but much of the time it doesn't seem to be going anywhere in particular. Robert plainly fancies John. He is also envious of him: his hour is passing, John's is still to come. Neither of these themes is more than lightly sketched in, however. Instead, we get a series of spoofs of the antique melodramas in which Robert and John are appearing. These are aimed at easy targets and tend to be heavy-handed. But one of them - a scene in an operating theatre in which Robert forgets his lines - is so funny that all is forgiven. It is ironic, in view of what Mamet has written about the communal aspect of acting, that he should have confined himself to a two-hander. As the evening wore on, I missed the sense of an extended theatre company. I particularly missed the presence of women... But within its limits A Life in the Theatre is entertaining enough, and Patrick Stewart makes it positively worthwhile." The Sunday Telegraph
A Life in the Theatre in London at the Apollo Theatre previewed from 27 January 2005, opened on 2 February 2005, and closed 30 April 2005