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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Speed-the-Plow
Old Vic Theatre Spring 2008

Two movie stars for the price of one. Two dynamic, energy-filled performances (and a more-than-adequate third). America's sharpest playwright in his prime. What's there not to like?

Matthew Warchus's revival of David Mamet's 1988 play is great dirty fun, not just in the power and insight of the writing, but in the delight of watching Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum clearly having a ball letting rip up there on the stage.

Mamet's putative subject here (Ignore the title - like most of Mamet's it means more to him than anyone else) is Hollywood. But as with most of his plays the real focus is manhood - how men define themselves, delude themselves and present themselves to others.

The central character is a movie studio executive whose less successful friend brings him a sure-fire hit package, an action film with a big star attached. As they salivate over the unimaginable money, power and broads that await them, the exec decides to seduce his new secretary through the ruse of giving her an unproducible arty book to review for him.

Surprisingly, the girl not only likes the book but manages to convince him to make it instead of the blockbuster, forcing the junior producer to fight back, not only for his own rapidly-receding prospects of glory, but to re-corrupt his buddy's soul.

When I first heard of the casting, I guessed that Kevin Spacey would play the exec with the laid-back snideness he can do so well, while Jeff Goldblum would be the excited, slightly oily buddy. In fact, Goldblum is the studio guy and Spacey the wannabe, and both have found unexpected and exciting new aspects to the characters.

Goldblum plays the newly-promoted production head as golden-boy-of-the-week, a sharpie with no discernible talent beyond charm and the ability to talk fast, and allows us just the occasional hint that he knows this.

Repeatedly, for example, he will be jabbering away at someone when, without breaking stride, his eyes give away a moment of panic as he tries to remember who he's talking to, what he's saying and what he wants to get from the other person.

It is exactly this guy that the secretary will be able to convince that he has hidden depths and existential pains that can only be satisfied by becoming a True Artist and making her film.

Meanwhile, Kevin Spacey comes on from the start as one of life's designated losers, frantically grasping at this unexpected chance at success, and unable really to believe in it even when things look rosiest.

So when it seems about to be stolen from him, he is less surprised than just finally pissed off at one-too-many insults from Providence, and the energy with which he fights back, and the violent form it takes, are the truly scary letting-loose of a lifetime's frustrations.

The role of the secretary is more plot device than developed character, and Laura Michelle Kelly takes a while to find her. Kelly is better known as a singer - she was Mary Poppins and one of the Lord of the Rings princesses - and she begins a bit too blandly.

But she does eventually let us see that this woman is as much a hustler as the guys. She may partly just be trying to get a movie made (with her name on it, of course), but even the more sincere side of her - the side that is preaching the philosophy of the arty book and trying to convince Goldblum's character of its significance - has the air of a revivalist more interested in racking up the numbers of converts than in the actual condition of their souls.

In short, director and actors have excitingly mined all David Mamet's insights into male psychology and added some of their own, making the play fresh for those who know it and doubly exciting for those coming to it for the first time.

They are also clearly having fun up there, lobbing the ball back and forth and playing at the top of their game. Give yourself the real pleasure of watching them play.

 
Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Speed-the-Plow - Old Vic 2008