Thursday, October 02, 2014

Speed-the-Plow by David Mamet at The Playhouse Theatre

It has to be first - laminated summaries left on tables in the bar, so the audience know what’s happening onstage.  

The afternoon had seemed promising; I had a low priced short-notice ticket from an online group, the theatre was five minutes’ walk from Charing Cross, David Mamet is  playwright with a reputation for witty social comment. (His Glengarry Glen Ross (1983) won a Pulitzer prize).  The celebrity name set off vague alarm bells, but I’d been impressed by Kathleen Turner in Bakersfield Mist at the Duchess Theatre recently. (see below)

 Come the interval, though, I was retracing my steps up Northumberland Avenue. I talked myself round, and went back just in time to get a black coffee before the second half. After all, I told myself, I’d paid £4 for a programme.

 In the first act a lacklustre, barely audible Richard Schiff portrays  a newly -appointed Hollywood studio Head of Production, Bobby Gould.  His one- time assistant and rival, Charlie Fox, a convincingly brash Nigel Lindsay, makes you  hurt for every minute of the eleven years he’s spent toiling in the industry. By a stroke of luck he’s been offered a 24 hour option on a film script, a sure-fire box-office hit, and brought it along to his erstwhile partner in return for co-production credits. He knows Bobby is a ‘film whore’, interested only in a script’s money-making potential.  The two of them begin to speculate about the wealth the film will rake in.

Bobby’s temporary secretary, Karen, (Lindsay Lohan)  serves coffee and says a few lines in a voice as low and dreary as her boss’s. When she’s gone, Charlie bet Bobby that he wouldn’t be able to sleep with her before the following day.  On that gratuitous and unexpected  note the lights went down for the interval

The second half improved, mainly because Charlie had most of the lines, and some were memorable.  Karen the secretary has her own agenda, and is described by the disapproving Charlie, as ‘A tight pussy wrapped around ambition’ when he finds she has persuaded Bobby to give ‘the green light’ to a worthy but dull work with a downbeat theme. ‘I like Yellow Pages’, but I wouldn’t want to film it,’ says Charlie, as he senses his dreams of wealth are about to evaporate.  ‘Don’t let your dick run your office,’ he advises the smitten Bobby. For the final twenty minutes the theme of ethics  versus profit  emerges as the conflict between the two men develops;  there’s even a twist ending. Sadly, it’s too late.

Lindsay Posner’s direction is brisk enough, but Karen’s character is implausible and Lindsay Lohan quotes the book as if really is Yellow Pages. The two sets lack detail –a room with desks for Bobby’s office, and a room with a sofa and city-at-night backdrop for his apartment. Maybe the paperback play, offered for £7 when you buy the programme, would prove more entertaining. Otherwise, you could skip the first half and just read the summary in the bar.