Speed The Plow Review

The Plot:

Two friendly but jaded Hollywood executives celebrate their good fortune after landing a major star for a sure fire box office hit. But after an encounter with a seemingly naïve young secretary, one of them struggles with an awkward newfound conscience.

The Good:

David Mamet’s Hollywood satire is a deceptively simple but sharp three hander that slices through the familiar clichés of shameless egos, insincerity and self-serving agendas that so often seems to fuel show business. 16 years after its Broadway debut the play is still an accurate and acerbic character assassination of sordid studio executives.

With leading man Richard Schiff unable to perform due to illness (a worrying sign less than a week into performances) his role is filled tonight by understudy Adam Morris. Morris is perhaps most familiar for playing a dim witted Robin Hood in cult classic kids TV series Maid Marian and Her Merry Men. This evening he does an admirable job of playing fast talking movie mogul Bobby Gould. He hits his marks and works through the frantic banter with competence, albeit occasionally lacking some of the gravitas and nuance that you expect West Wing star Schiff might have offered.

Stage veteran and Four Lions comedy star Nigel Lindsay is another saving grace for tonight’s production. He delivers most of the laughs with a consistently entertaining performance as foul mouthed and violently ambitious wannabe producer Charlie Cox. His snarling sweaty performance helps capture some of the fire and wit of Mamet’s writing. He’s evidently the most familiar and at ease with the material, helpfully dragging his less assured co-stars along.

The Bad:

Lindsay Lohan has had her credible teen stardom steadily eroded away by a decade of self-inflicted scandal, disappointments and tabloid journalism. It has left her with unenviable notoriety and very vocal critics. As such, news of her stage debut in London was quickly dismissed by most as ill-advised stunt casting and a misguided bid for career redemption. Sadly on the basis of Lohan’s initial performances, those accusations seem painfully accurate.

West End audiences expect perfection, perhaps a reasonable request when tickets cost up to £90 each. At times the troubled former film star falls so short of those high standards it threatens to become a source of cynical amusement.

During the first act, despite her limited stage time and sparse dialogue, Lohan is an evidently nervous and distracting presence. It’s awkward watching her fumble to make her minimal mechanical contributions amongst the fast paced scenes. It’s also immediately clear that prematurely wearied features and real life Hollywood infamy are a poor fit for playing a supposedly naïve young woman. At just 28 Lohan already feels too familiar and worn out to convincingly play the wide eyed ingénue.

During the second act Lohan finally gets the opportunity to deliver meaningful chunks of dialogue, albeit with many of them literally read from a book. As has been widely reported, tonight during one of the few off-book monologues, she is indeed prompted for a line by an embarrassed voice from off stage. It’s an inexcusable low point in an overall unsatisfactory and uneven performance.

Even if you generously excuse the occasionally fluffed line as a symptom of early run nerves, it can’t disguise the fact that it’s a performance that would at times be more at home in a school play than at the pinnacle of live professional theatre.

Finally it’s worth noting that after the curtain fell on an awkward on stage apology from Lohan for Richard Schiff’s absence, theatre goers who waited patiently by the stage door for nearly an hour to at least have their program or ticket stubs signed, were informed that she had just ducked out of a side exit to avoid facing them. Leaving fans with a final disappointing act of self-sabotage.

The Ugly Truth:

Speed The Plow remains a quick witted piece of relevant and amusing material, but sadly this current production doesn’t yet seem equipped to capture that. It’s worth acknowledging that the show still has a long run to polish out the obvious flaws of its early previews. Perhaps guided by a recovered Richard Schiff and a quickly improved display from Lohan the production may still find its feet.

An Interview with the charming and highly talented Richard Schiff below:

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