Review: Speed the Plow

October 9, 2014
  • Rating: ★★★☆☆
Playhouse Theatre

There’s something rather patronising about the coverage of Lindsay Lohan’s stage debut in David Mamet’s Speed the Plow: “Didn’t she do well for turning up?”, “Didn’t she do well for only forgetting one line?”, “Didn’t she do well for not being absolutely freaking terrible?”

We should, perhaps, give her a little credit – but only a little. On press night, a palpable nervousness surrounded her as she entered mid-way through the first act, her lines delivered slightly ahead of tempo, as if she were desperate to get them out before they dissolved on her tongue. By the second act she’d got into her groove, giving a spirited, sweet performance that was captivating in its own way without being quite enough to convince you that you’re watching Karen the office temp as opposed to Lindsay Lohan the celebrity trainwreck.

In fairness, she doesn’t have a great deal to work with – her character is more plot device than human being, someone to bring about change in others through her two-dimensional exuberance. All the good lines go to Richard Schiff, best known as Toby Ziegler in the West Wing, and Nigel Lindsay, a stage pro who recently starred as Bolingbroke opposite David Tennant in Richard II. And there are plenty of cracking one-liners to go around in Mamet’s droll appraisal of Hollywood and humanity (case in point: “Working in movies is like the start of a love affair; it’s full of surprises and you’re always getting f****d”).

Most of the action takes place in the office of recently promoted studio executive Bobby Gould (Schiff), who has been delivered a guaranteed box-office smash (a prison buddy-movie with a Hollywood A-lister already attached) by former cohort Charlie Fox (Lindsay).

As they discuss how filthy, stinking rich this clearly abominable movie is about to make them, conversation turns to the office temp, Karen, and $500 of their newfound wealth is wagered on whether Bobby can sleep with her. His masterplan is to ask her to “courtesy read” a highfalutin novel about the end of the world, and to deliver a report on it to his LA bachelor-pad that night. Karen, however, finds a dubious spiritual connection with the text and sets about persuading Bobby to ditch Charlie’s lucrative prison movie and film the book instead, thereby committing career harakiri and perhaps saving his mortal soul.

Barring one criminally long change of set, director Lindsay Posner’s play rattles along at a fair clip, culminating in a charged, physical showdown between the three characters in which Nigel Lindsay particularly shines.

But for a play about the Hollywood machine, starring a genuine A-lister, it has a curiously hangdog air; a niggling sense that something’s missing. There’s a perfectly reasonable night of theatre to be found here, but if you’re hoping for celebrity sparkle, you may come home disappointed.

First published in City A.M.