Written by David Mamet

Tuesday 24th September to Saturday 28th September 2002

Directed by Tim Taylor

One day, on a day like any other, John, a university lecturer, meets Carol, one of his students, for a private discussion in his office. Apparently so alike, the gulf between them soon begins to appear and their similarities are seen to be quite superficial. Like two parallel lines, they cannot get away from each other, but neither can they get any closer. They have not started from the same point; they never touch; they will never meet.
And in David Mamet's hands this simple tale takes on a life of it's own in exploring the strengths and weaknesses of arguments which so unavoidably constrain all our lives.
"There can be no tougher or more unflinching play than Oleanna" - Harold Pinter

AuthorDavid Mamet

David Mamet (b 1947)

Born in Flossmoor, Illinois, David Mamet is an award winning writer, who studied at Goddard College in Vermont and at the Neighbourhood Playhouse School of Theatre in New York before venturing into the professional world of the Theatre.

He began his career as an actor and director before achieving success in 1976 with three Off-Off Broadway plays, 'The Duck Variations', 'Sexual Perversity in Chicago', and 'American Buffalo'. In 1981, Mamet turned his attention to screenwriting and made an impressive debut with his first screenplay, 'The Postman Always Rings Twice', which he adapted from the novel by James Cain. In 1984, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for 'Glengarry Glen Ross' which recreated the atmosphere of a gritty Chicago real estate office in which Levene, an aging salesman, is about to be sacked. He followed up in 1988 with 'Speed the Plow' which exposes the dirty underside of another industry - show business. Perhaps his most controversial play, however, came in 1992 with 'Oleanna', a two-character drama involving charges of sexual harassment between a male professor and one of his female students.

Mamet has taught at Goddard College, the Yale Drama School and New York University. His awards include the Joseph Jefferson Award, Obie Award, New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Outer Circle Award, Society of West End Theatre Award, Pulitzer Prize, Dramatists Guild Hall-Warriner Award, American Academy Award and Tony Award. and he has penned a number of other critically acclaimed screenplays including 'The Verdict', 'The Untouchables', 'Glengarry Glen Ross' and 'Wag the Dog'.

The most recognised element of Mamet's style is his sparse, clipped dialogue. Although reminiscent of such playwrights as Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett, Mamet's dialogue is so unique that it has become known as "Mametspeak". His language is not so much "naturalistic" as it is a poetic impression of streetwise jargon. Other signature elements of Mamet's style include minimalism and a lack of stage directions. Noted for his strong male characters, Mamet's plays often deal with the decline of morality in a world which has become an emotional and spiritual wasteland.


'Oleanna' premiered in 1992 in Cambridge, Massachusetts as the first production of Mamet's new Back Bay Theatre Company. The name of the play comes from 'oleana' the name of a nineteenth century failed Utopian community and a term now used to refer to the hopeless pursuit of an idealistic dream where all things are naively held to be possible. It had its London premiere at the Royal Court Theatre in 1993, where it was directed by Harold Pinter

'Oleanna' is a thought-provoking play that looks at the issue of sexual harassment on-campus in a radical light. On stage are two characters. An under-grad student, waiting, seated in front of her professor (whose class she has failed) to discuss her grades. He is on the phone, discussing the impending purchase of his house? And he starts addressing the student. She starts fumbling for words, starts taking notes, the exorcism begins! Before the play is halfway through, the Professor is brought before Tenure Committee for sexual harassment. Who is right, who is wrong? In the process, it questions the basic fabric of the entire society.

The name of the play comes from 'oleana' the name of a nineteenth century failed Utopian community and a term now used to refer to the hopeless pursuit of an idealistic dream where all things are naively held to be possible.

The Bench Production

Oleanna poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


John, a university professorPete Woodward
Carol, a studentSam Emery


Director Tim Taylor
Stage Management Richard Le Moingan
Set Design Tim Taylor
Lighting Design Damon Wakelin
Lighting Operator Robin Hall

Director's Notes

After being a member of this company for over ten years, acting a bit, set building a lot and directing a few things elsewhere, this is the first production I have directed with the Bench. It has been a great deal of work and very rewarding.

First, I came to a terrible realisation a third of the way through our very first read through. I didn't want to direct this at all; I wanted to act in it. Fortunately by the time we reached the end of that evening, I had seen sense. The sheer volume of lines to be learned was so daunting that I was happy to stick with th easy route and direct it.

Second, working with so small a cast is a quite different business, and quite intimidating when they are both consummate actors and seasoned directors. Inevitably - and to great advantage with a play such as this - the production really does become an entirely joint effort. Everything that one actor does deeply affects the other one, and with only two characters, both of whom are on stage all the time, there are no scened where either actor can have a rest, or even take a back seat for a while. This is evident now, at the performance stage, but has applied equally all through rehearsal as well, making the rehearsals much harder work than in a "normal" play when every actor has breaks during those scenes in which they are not involved, when they can have a drink, review their own part, etc. Stupidly, I hadn't considered that.

Finally it becomes all consuming. This page was nearly entitled "Notes from the Director's Wife" because I'm sure she was bored to death with my twittering on about the ruddy play by the time I had decided - months ago - that, yes, I really would put it forward for selection. Since then, when every minute not spent on rehearsal is spent re-reading the text to see if there's something I've missed, or worrying about the set, the props, the programme, the publicity.

And the lesson from all this?

I want to do another one.

Tim Taylor


The NewsMike Allen

Bench Theatre pairing spot on

The strength of David Mamet's play - the force of its argument about the gender war, power and the need for respect - is also its potential weakness. The two actors have to match up to make it a fair contest. But Bench Theatre has the answers.

Peter Woodward's portrayal of the teacher's relish of the performance aspect of his job is as impressive as his crumpling face and voice on recognising that power has been yielded to his student.

And Sam Emery's command of fractured dialogue portraying her anger and frustration is as potent as her ability to express a momentary feeling by a simple pursing of the lips. Watching her develop as an actress has been one of the pleasures of the amateur scene in recent years.

Tim Taylor could perhaps give her a little firmer direction at times in act two, but he has done well to create sufficient meaningful movement on the small acting space he uses - effectively close to the audience. And his transfer of the setting from America to Britain generally makes good sense. Until Saturday.

The News, 26th September 2002

Production Photographs