Swimming With Sharks

Published April 17, 2008

I have never met a Hollywood executive and after seeing Swimming With Sharks, I thank my lucky stars for that fortune. For in the Hollywood depicted by George Huang, whose film is adapted for the stage by Michael Lesslie, Hollywood executives are odious people of the highest order, ready to double-cross, backstab and humiliate their subordinates to achieve their goals, writes Matthew Amer, who attended the first night at the Vaudeville.

The worst among this despicable breed is Buddy Ackerman, third most powerful man at Keystone Productions, with his eye on the number two spot. It is a goal the power-hungry producer can achieve, if only he can leave behind his gore-splattering horror background and, for the first time in his career, produce a meaningful film.

Into Buddy’s office walks the fresh-faced, bumbling, idealistic and above all else, pleasant, Guy, a recent film school graduate with hopes of writing… and so his demise begins.

Christian Slater imbues Ackerman with his usual vitriolic charm; he is not supposed to be likeable, the man is an abomination, yet his charisma makes him irresistible. The arch-manipulator works everyone around him to his advantage, nothing that passes his lips is the truth, except the orders he hands out like a drill sergeant with anger management issues.

Matt Smith’s Guy – so insignificant a recruit that he doesn’t even deserve a surname, and could, in fact, be anyone – is the character who takes the journey; the lure of success and the quick talking of Ackerman working their magic on the latest hopeful to fall into Hollywood’s glittering oubliette.

The problem Buddy has is that, when you try and destroy someone’s soul, passion and dreams, there is always a chance they will snap and exact a deliciously appropriate revenge, especially if they have a writer’s imagination.

The best lines in this production are invariably the cleverly concocted put downs and abuse that fall to Slater to deliver; the Hollywood veteran is immensely watchable on the London stage. Helen Baxendale provides a third-wheel love interest, wise to the ways of the film world, who may or may not be as conniving as Ackerman.

While subjects such as the male dominance of the film industry and the cause and effect of outrageously violent horror films are touched on, at heart Swimming With Sharks is a dark tale of bullying and the thirst for success. em>MA