This revival of David Mamet’s Hollywood satire Speed-the-Plow is the victim of its casting choice. Royal Bath Productions’ selection of now infamous ex-child-actor-cum-car-crash-celeb Lindsay Lohan is a bold choice, though their aims when they booked her are questionable to say the least. For if there was ever a show that could be called rubberneck theatre then this is it. Many of the early bookers must have perversely hoped to see Lohan crash and burn after reading all those stories of her many breakdowns and misdemeanours splashed across the gossip columns. But now Speed-the-Plow is playing to an embarrassingly empty house, probably partly because word has got out that Lohan isn’t quite so bad after all – and for someone with no stage experience and a lot of pressure riding on her to get this right, she does a remarkably ok job. Not that merely ‘ok’ is really acceptable for a West End show.
It still comes across as somewhat cruel, Lohan being plonked onstage like a cash cow with a pretty face, a patently obvious attempt to get bums on seats with a bit of scandal. The posters and programmes show her face in a paparazzi-style shot, her eyes wide like a rabbit caught in headlights, while the orange hue has surely been selected to bring her all too recent prison jumpsuit days to mind. It’s a mugshot, effectively, appealing to those ghouls who wanted to watch her fail. Or perhaps the kind of image that would be accompanied by some merciless headline on the Daily Mail’s website, preparing LiLo for death by the comments section.
Speed-the-Plow opened to reports of Lohan requiring extensive prompting from the wings and much speculation over how long she would last onstage before she quit or was fired. A few weeks in, however, she seems to have really found her confidence and is a surprisingly dominating presence on stage despite her small part as Karen, a temporary PA to a Hollywood producer, who totters into the phallocentric world of Tinseltown in some nice shoes and attempts to challenge the status quo of the superficial movie industry.
The interval (just 37 minutes in) and overlong scene changes cut the drama off every time it threatens to get going, resulting in a painfully stilted feel. The fast-paced dialogue is hard to follow and the plot isn’t particularly engaging either. But does any of this matter? Mamet’s play is really secondary to the one-woman celebrity circus of Speed-the-Plow. A pair of fangirls in the row in front of me whispered to each other and even put on make-up through any scenes Lohan was absent from. Despite strong performances from Nigel Lindsay as Charlie Fox, a bloodthirsty producer desperate for success, and Richard Schiff as Bobby Gould, his world wearied ex-colleague and new boss, the production limps along sadly until the end when, surprisingly, the stalls erupt in whoops and applause. What’s unsurprising, though, is that those cheering are exclusively the die-hard Lohan fans, and I expect that they would have been just as thrilled if she had popped on stage for a few minutes and quoted Mean Girls.