(Not really a) Review: Speed-The-Plow, Playhouse Theatre

“I think I’m being punished for my wickedness”

When did we become a society so keen on a hot mess? I’m as guilty as anyone for finding guilty pleasure in (some of) the car crashes that increasingly clutter our television screens and if I protest that it’s only really the likes of Greg(g) Wallace I want to see make a fool of themselves on the dancefloor, one can equally argue that that is just the thin end of the wedge. Lindsay Lohan found herself very much at the deep end when the announcement that she would be making her stage debut in David Mamet’s Speed-The-Plow was first made, scepticism rather than enthusiasm being the prevailing tone, and the gleeful reports of a challenging first preview – which have been so incredibly widely reported (and again, I’m no innocent here) – would seem to indicate that many would like nothing more than to see her fall flat on her face.

Whatever the perceived sins of a celebrity, it’s not a particularly good look on any of us, this baying for failure and so I thought I do my best to redress the balance a little. I caught the show on Saturday night (still in preview, opening night is this coming Thursday) to find that Richard Schiff was off sick and understudy Adam Morris would be playing Bobby Gould. Morris was impressively almost entirely off-book (he also performed the matinée that day) and it just goes to show the unpredictability of theatre work, something that any theatrical debutante would have to get used to, especially when a production is in such early days as these. That’s not to place anyone beyond reproach but merely a recognition that getting a play up and running with delayed starts, cast changes and all in the first week alone is no mean feat.

The flipside is of course that the show is open to paying customers – and it sure ain’t cheap, top price goes up to a whopping £125 – and preview or not, you’re gonna want your money’s worth. And in terms of the raw material, the signs are good. Mamet’s 1988 biting study of the shark-infested waters of Hollywood film production remains as potent as it surely ever did (this is my first time seeing the show) as jobbing producer Charlie Fox hits up his old buddy Bobby Gould, a newly promoted studio boss, with a sure-fire formulaic blockbuster hit. The fly in the ointment is Bobby’s temporary secretary Karen who awakens something of an artistic conscience in him when she pitches passionately for a novel he’d tossed her way and so Bobby ends up caught between the two projects, torn between art and commerce.

And you can see how Lindsay Posner’s production has the potential to become something powerfully hypnotic as the intricacies of Mamet’s wordplay combine with the tightness of the plotting. Adam Morris really was impressive stepping into the role of the conflicted Bobby (and whilst many would have been disappointed not to get the guy from The West Wing, I was hugely thrilled to get Robin Hood from Maid Marian and her Merry Men, one of my favourite TV shows as a kid). The ever-thrilling-to-watch Nigel Lindsay is blisteringly good as a near-animalistic Charlie, his swagger underscored with a real menace, and as for Lindsay Lohan, well she has a lovely stage presence when her nerves settle – the gorgeous ease of her body language and that inimitably rich alto convey real passion when she lets them – it would be fascinating to see her again later in the run.

So there you have it, perhaps more of a review than I had thought I’d give and certainly more rambling than I’d like but it’s late on Sunday night and I’ve a hellishly busy week ahead. I genuinely look forward to reading what others make of the show, especially in comparison to other productions, but I really do hope that they ultimately judge it on its own merits and not on any preconceptions of Lohan or otherwise.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Simon Annand
Booking until 29th November

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