SPEED THE PLOW Playhouse Theatre, SW1


David Mamet’s angostura sharpness is not everyone’s taste , but few playwrights have such rat-a-tat rhythm and economical impetus. And this swipe at the movie business, a three-hander in three scenes, had a success with Spacey and Goldblum a few years back, and a sensation on Broadway when Madonna took the role of the gorgeous temp who nearly overturns the settled cynicism of two producers dedicated to the simple Hollywood philosophy “get asses on seats, give ‘em the one they saw last year”.
And that’s the draw here: celebrity casting gives that role to Lindsay Lohan: once a Disney moppet, lately a fading movie performer, model, pop star, and – here’s the hook – serial addict, arrestee and rehabee, a reputedly almost “unemployable” wild-child. Creditable to defy this past with a West End debut under the usually infallible director Lindsay Posner, and it is not the toughest of ingenue roles, but all the same it would have been wiser for Lindsay the younger to do some humbler spadework on her stage skills first.

In the first act, no problem: Bob the studio producer (Richard Schiff) and Charlie his old colleague (Nigel Lindsay) are hatching a proposal to sell their boss, the invisible Ross, a prison action movie with a big star. Bob offers Karen the temp the job of doing a “courtesy read” of another book submitted. He plans – nudge nudge – to discuss it with her in his apartment. So far, frankly, an ansaphone could do Lohan’s few yes-sir lines, and she has not the skill to seem human in her reactions when the men continue their fusillade of sexual metaphor (“We’re whores!”) over her head. Schiff and Nigel Lindsay do this with high-speed brilliance, though it is hard to care much about either of these caricatures.

The middle act – between Bob and Karen – is the challenge, though it does allow Lohan to keep her hand pretty firmly on the book they are discussing and sometimes read from it. She got away with only one audible prompt. But the whole point is that she is breathtakingly pretty (tumbling hair, marvellous legs, very short tunic) and that Karen’s enthusiasm for the book requires the spouting of New Age nonsense, so if some of the words fall out backwards, who cares? . The book is called “The Bridge – Radiation, half-life and the decay of sanity” , pretentious bollocks about the end of the world, A Return To The Self and mystical roundness of life. This falls, haphazardly, from her perfect lips, accompanied by an announcement that she will sleep with the raddled old baldie as part of this whole philosophy. So here is an unsubtle middle-aged male fantasy, being ropily performed by a unsubtle tabloid scandalette. Hard to know who is exploiting whom.

The point, of course, that Bob is so overwhelmed by this available goddess that the final scene next morning is the best and funniest. Superb horror and rage erupt from Nigel Lindsay as Charlie, thwarted of his prison-movie , while the converted Bob deploys a stunned-mullet stubbornness. Embedded within it, if you care to engage with it, is the question of whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to bumble vapidly on and earn a living (Charlie “We aren’t put here to mope!”) or to take arms for some enormous wacko principle (Bob bleats “I wanted to do good!”).

It could only work if the female catalyst shone, and became hypnotically real enough to convince us – even for a few moments – that this radiation-holocaust-God-redemption stuff had any value. That doesn’t happen.
box office http://www.atgtickets.com to 6 Dec

rating (no, can’t do it. Sorry. The men do their noble best, but…Dead Rat


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