London Theatre Review: Bitter Wheat at the Garrick Theatre

Bitter Wheat takes the once statuesque golden figure of a film-making mogul and smashes it into little pieces in this unsettling exposure of Hollywood's dark side. You could imagine Olivier Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David Mamet (Oleanna, The Verdict) disappearing to write this script in a rolling fury, spurred on by the suggestion of a producer-friend to delve into the recent flood of sexual assault allegations, and the twisted shadow of those big hilltop letters.  

London Theatre Review: Bitter Wheat at the Garrick Theatre
John Malkovich stars in Bitter Wheat at the Garrick Theatre

The result is a monstrous reality, delivered by the exciting pairing of John Malkovich and David Mamet, which hits the West End with a heavy dose of horror and comedy. This is theatre that also carries the thrum of modern debate, exploring the sociopathy of those Titan-esque tycoons whose harassment has long been the stuff of rumour in high places. The Emmy-nominated John Malkovich (Burn After Reading, Death of a Salesman) makes his return to the stage as Barney Fein after 33 years away. Fattened-up and on gut-wrenching form, he throws himself into fast-paced monologues, sickening details (the use of a Viagra-timer) and tense dialogue.

In the opening scene Fein berates a screenwriter, saying: “you defraud me with your terrible writing” - this is the first gunshot in a long barage, a series of semantic battles, unfolding across a dark dreamscape floored with green marble. Slowly we watch this looming “evil man” bitterly defend his ego, coddling his public philanthropy, whilst churning authentic ideas into sentimental mush to force-feed to the masses. We see a portrait of the narcissist and Darwinist, who states: “we are all animals” and hunts his prey with a blunt spear of cultural misappropriation, enforcing oriental customs on Cambridge-educated actress Yung Kim Li, despite her insistence that she is, in fact: “from Kent”.

Make no mistake, this is a grotesque and sickeningly convincing portrait of the patriarchy. And yet relief can be found in Fein’s downfall, as he flees a cresting wave of indictments, bundled into the momentum of the #metoo movement – the same flurry of allegations that wrenched the Harveys of the world out of high-rise Hollywood. All the while the fallout of Fein’s lechery is managed by his tight-lipped but formidable PA, Sondra, played with poise and restraint by Doon Mackichan. Finally, Bitter Wheat mutates into the last song of a soulless breed, punctuated by Fein’s final pathetic epitaph – how will you know I’m rehabilitated: “I’ll have lost weight”.      

The powerful and brilliantly performed Bitter Wheat is playing for a 4-month run from June to 14 September 2019 at the Garrick Theatre.

David Mamet’s Bitter Wheat starring John Malkovich tickets on sale now.

Bitter Wheat is playing at the West End's Garrick Theatre until 14 September. Don’t miss your chance to experience John Malkovich’s triumphant return to theatre after 33 years. Book now at London Theatre Direct, with tickets available from £30.

🎫 Purchase your Bitter Wheat tickets here.

Jack Hudson

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