The Old Vic revives David Mamet’s behind-the-screens satire Hollywood movie making has taken a battering on the West End stage in recent months. First came Swimming With Sharks featuring Christian Slater’s deplorable, morally bereft producer Buddy Ackerman. Now the Old VicSpeed-the-Plow, with two actors who know a bit about Hollywood – Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum – in the lead roles. Matthew Amer was in the first night audience.
David Mamet writes slick, quick-fire, cutting dialogue that actors seem to revel in performing. Certainly in Matthew Warchus’s new production of Speed-the-Plow, the words fly faster than bullets in a Bruce Willis action flick, as the dialogue flows freely, the performers overlapping and throwing away words and phrases without a care. It seems a shame that some of Mamet’s phrases evaporate before they reach the edge of the stage, but the interplay between Spacey and Goldblum runs so quickly that to hear everything they say would be as impossible as putting a sad ending in a Hollywood blockbuster.
The pair play movie producers; Goldblum, the more successful Bobby Gould, new Head of Production at a major studio, and Spacey his long-term, though less successful, associate Charlie Fox. Fox has secured a movie deal that could make his career should Gould come on board, which looks likely until temporary secretary Karen (Laura Michelle Kelly) introduces the idea of adapting an artistic novel into the equation.
Spacey is a magnetic, eye-catching livewire as the producer who so wants to live the Hollywood dream but has yet to achieve it. He is a fidgeting, gleeful, overexcited bundle of nerves, twitching, hopping from one foot to another, unable to sit still with the thought of finally achieving the success he has so craved and with it the power he is hungry for.
It is this power that is central to the plot. Arguments about the nature of film-making and the importance of money versus art run throughout the piece, but a thirst for power is at its heart. Fox uses macho posturing, bravado and a healthy dose of arse-kissing to garner his shot, while beautiful Karen, played with an air of panicked nervous naivety by Kelly in the midst of the masculine face off, plays the sex card to her advantage. Goldblum’s Gould, by contrast, now that he has power, craves a real relationship rather than the posturing he gets from everyone who uses him to try and score points. Behind the alpha male exterior lurks a man insecure about his humanity. Of course, this is Hollywood, so no relationship is real, unless you accept people for the self-serving acquaintances they are.
Rob Howell’s design reflects the nature of the piece. Gould’s office, where two of the three scenes take place, is a bright white, stark room with minimal furniture. It is clinical, precise, without flourishes and without depth, echoing the films the producers make.
Mamet’s script is littered with deliciously cutting lines aimed at characters, the world and the film industry, but three words spoken by Fox as the piece reaches its climax summarise the business it is satirising: “Everyone wants power”. em>MA