Actors Richard Schiff and Nigel Lindsay knew exactly what they were taking part in when they signed up for a West End play with a paparazzi magnet, so they can’t complain if they are overlooked by the vast majority of the press.
Still, they have every right to be mad that they’re ignored when they put in such strong performances in the lead roles of Bob and Charlie in David Mamet’s 1988 hate letter to Hollywood, Speed-the-Plow. They basically do all the heavy-lifting in this staccato three-hander and both manage to take lazily-written stock characters, who speak entirely in cartoonish approximations of slick hard-boiled wit, and inflate them into something like real people.
The West Wing’s Schiff is fast-talking and funny as Bob, a super-cynical film producer who takes pride in having become a glorified bean-counter, “a whore, but a secure whore!” While Nigel Lindsay keeps up well as Charlie, a hand-wringing younger studio suit who is desperate to make the most of what looks like his big break, knowing that at any moment he could be dumped, ripped off and spat out by the system.
But their grandstanding doesn’t add up to much. This is one of Mamet’s weakest plays, with a plot that doesn’t really bear summarising (film people bickering, basically), and it is very flatly presented here by the play’s third Lindsay (who no-one is talking about either) — that’s Lindsay Posner, the director. Posner contrives a remarkably static production, both staid and clumsy, with a thoroughly pointless three minute long scene change midway through the second act (during which the audience went straight for their smart phones last night). And despite the fiery line readings by Schiff and (Nigel) Lindsay, all three actors on stage are stiffly posed and awkwardly positioned throughout. When there is finally a flurry of action — a punch thrown, out of the blue — it feels like a minor miracle (we almost woke up in fact). In other words, poor direction and the biliousness of Mamet’s intentions sink this show, long before she arrives…
And so, if we must, to Lindsay Lohan… And, well, what is there to say? She just can’t act. She really, really tries and there is something endearing about that at least. During last night’s show, the audience seemed to be willing her on, holding its collective breath as she drifted through the few lines she has (and let’s be clear, she is the third lead and only on stage for about half an hour).
Lohan plays Karen, an ingénue secretary who supposedly brings a fresh perspective to the jaded movie business, which is hilarious miscasting from the outset. And even though she has very little to do — standing around mostly, occasionally sitting down — she doesn’t manage to do either particularly well. In short, she is unengaging, underpowered and yes, she did need prompting. She also says every single sentence in the same croaky lilt — which weirdly makes it sound as if the play is written in blank verse (it’s not). Basically, she sucks what little life there is in the show, right out of it. And at the end when she asks “Did I do something wrong?” you feel like saying “Yes, ever thinking you could be an actor.”
Speed-the-Plow is on at the Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue WC2 until 22 November 2014. Tickets from £32. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.