Keep Your Pantheon by David Mamet

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BBC Radio 4, 12 November 2008
David Mamet’s Plautine romp tells of a troupe of strolling players encountering a series of misfortunes – the threat of eviction from their hovel, possible destruction by the 10th African Legion, and the prospect of a public execution witnessed by Julius Caesar himself. However they manage to overcome through a combination of quick-wittedness and good fortune. The play makes a hero out of the leading actor Strabo (Martin Jarvis); a versatile soul who can be all things to all people – a man of a thousand faces whose verbal dexterity can persuade anyone to believe anything. At the same time Mamet shows how all the characters are governed by impersonal fate; despite their best-laid plans, they will always land in situations not of their own making. The truly clever person is the one who understands this, and adapts themselves to changed circumstances. Strabo is a past master at this.


Keep Your Pantheon is an unusual work from someone normally more at home in contemporary American urban settings. In many ways it is reminiscent of Sondheim’s famous musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, with its combination of knockabout farce and hastily improvised dialogue. I half-expected the cast to break into song at any moment. On the other hand Mamet explores a theme characteristic of most of his writing - that of human beings trying to make their way in a hostile and indifferent universe. Perhaps there is not too much distance between Keep Your Pantheon and Glengarry Glen Ross. Rosalind Ayres’ production was performed with great gusto by a talented cast.