Originally published on London Box Office
There is so much competition in London theatre, so when a new play comes to the stage it needs to offer something that can convince the audience to spend money there instead of at a dozen other theatres. It could be the play itself – maybe it’s by a famous writer or has wide audience appeal. Or maybe it’s the casting, using a particular actor that is renowned in their craft. When I went along to the Playhouse Theatre for the 2nd night’s previews of Speed the Plow, it was for one name in particular. This play will draw the crowds in for a different reason, mainly because the British public loves to see a famous name crash and burn as much as they love to see someone deliver an incredible performance. So I sat down with the same thought as many of the audience, ‘how much of a disaster will Lindsay Lohan be in this particular performance?’
Lohan performs alongside 2 others in this production, which revolves around a film producer trying to choose the next big script to pitch funding for at his production company. Bobby Gould (Richard Schiff) is approached by Charlie Fox (Nigel Lindsay) who has just convinced a film star to sign up to his film option and is hoping that this will finally be his big break into the business. Karen (Lohan) however has other ideas. Initially hired as Gould’s assistant, she tries to persuade him to reconsider Fox’s option in favour of a book that she rediscovered after Gould initially dismissed the script. With only 3 actors in this play, there is that much more pressure on each to deliver a memorable performance – no-one has any room to hide. The playwright David Mamet has divided the script into 3 acts and each act seems to devote its efforts to one character more than the others. The thing all 3 performers achieved was that their ‘main act’, as it were, was their strongest. However each performer had flaws outside of these scenes.
The dialogue in this play was fast-paced, no doubt about that. From the very start, the script had momentum and required a really clear relationship between the cast so that they could bounce their lines off each other, a bit like watching a Wimbledon tennis match. I felt that each act took some time to warm up; the actors appeared clunky and tripped over their lines at first, but slowly warmed up and finally gained that required pace to finish each act on a high. Of course the problem with this was that by the time they had built up momentum, they had all but lost me. You could feel that the actors became more confident as the play progressed and started to develop their characters, which is exactly what an actor should do to keep a performance exciting and keep the audience entranced. Initially however, I felt that they were trying to run before they could walk and as a result, there were some moments where lines were lost and awkward pauses ensued.
The first act focussed around the central character, the producer Gould. Schiff displayed his acting experience from the start; he seemed to have a good grasp of the dialogue straightaway and was trying to keep the momentum up throughout the whole play. The initial conversation with Fox was a bit awkward – there were a few pauses in dialogue where I wasn’t sure if Manet had purposely written them this way or whether there was a blunder in the lines. I think that’s a mistake, the audience should clearly know if a pregnant pause and awkward speech pattern is intentional or not. Gould undergoes the greatest character change within the play, plagued by doubt that he can actually trust his instincts and Schiff portrayed this cycle of emotions with clarity.
The final act belonged Fox; up until this point I felt that Lindsay was a bit of a non-entity and he started this act in the same vein. But then I saw the flick of a switch; as anger overtook the character Lindsay really came alive in his acting, relaxed into the character and was word perfect until the end. Some of the play’s best lines were thrown around in this scene, with “I like the Yellow Pages but I don’t want to make a film out of it!” being one of mine and the audience’s favourites.
Of course I’ve saved my opinion of Lohan until last. I admit that I did expect her to fall flat on her face, but she didn’t. Now she was by no means perfect, with some line issues and a stiff overall performance. Her best moments were in the 2nd act, where she seemed to let go of some of those nerves as her character became more assertive. But given that everyone was scrutinising every part of her performance to the last detail, she didn’t crumble. There is an obvious link between the character and Lohan’s attempt at reform in the public eye. At one point Karen suddenly seems to look at her life and realise that it has gone out of control; there is an admirable steely quality in Lohan’s eye during that piece of dialogue.
Overall, there were hiccoughs. There were nerves. But it wasn’t the train wreck I was expecting. It wasn’t a particularly moving piece of theatre either and no amount of practice will change that.