To mark Shrove Tuesday Andrew turned up at the Old Vic wearing his pancake concealer; Phil, as always, was the tosser.
There was a real buzz in the packed auditorium last night and for once not because Andrew’s hearing-aid was on the blink. In fact the buzz was so loud that the Whingers couldn’t hear the Old Vic seats creaking and for a moment they thought that Mr Spacey had finally made time to go round with the can of 2-in-1 oil that the Whingers sent him for Christmas (or meant to send him; we’re not sure now).
Anyway, yes, buzz. Or in the Whingers’ case, mild fretting. The director of Speed-the-Plow is none other than Mr Matthew Warchus and – this being a preview – the Whingers were slightly worried that they might again get told off for writing.
Buzz and fretting gave way to “mild peril” (as the movie posters have it these days) when the house manager appeared onto the stage to announce that the already tardy curtain would be even tardier. Had one of the Hollywood stars – Jeff Goldblum or Kevin Spacey – thrown a hissy fit backstage?
Thankfully, no. The Old Vic was experiencing “technical difficulties beyond our control” which as Helen Smith pointed out was clearly a lie as the curtain did go up and so the technical difficulty must – in the final analysis – have been within their control. Was Mr Spacey, perhaps, just lubricating the last few rows of the stalls, having been told that the Whingers were in the house? Who can say?
So anyway, the Whingers had brought along a sizeable party (coincidentally just enough to effect a group booking which brought the price of the £45 seats down to £25) – some dragged from their sickbeds – to see David Mamet’s 1988 play Speed-the-Plow. Or rather to see the stars in it.
The Whingers were in buoyant mood having discovered that the play was to be performed in 90 minutes without an interval which – even accounting for the delay starting – meant they would be in the bar by 9.15 pm.
Plow (rhymed with Slough not flow) tells the story of two Hollywood producers Bobby Gould (Goldblum) and Charlie Fox (Spacey) joining forces to make a blockbuster movie which will make Spacey very rich and Gould even richer than he already is. But Gould is persuaded by his possibly-ingénue-possibly-not secretary Karen (Laura Michelle Kelly in a role originated on Broadway by Madonna) to dump it in favour of an adaptation of an esoteric, apocalyptic novel that might change the world but which no-one will ever go and see.
Ah, it’s a debate in which the Whingers have often found themselves immersed: commerce versus art. Andrew sees the Whingers as the latter: prophets, arbiters of taste, creative scribes putting the theatrical world to rights.
Phil is more interested in profits and thinks the valuable WEW brand (Did you think we didn’t have one? Wrong) should be prostituted and they should sell themselves to the highest bidder. It’s sad, isn’t it? There’s only one person in the queue to buy Phil.
The Whingers’ arguments are often fast and furious but nothing like some of the fact-paced verbal sparring that happens in S-t-P. The dialogue is very witty (Mamet at his best) and when Goldblum and Spacey are on the stage together it’s often quite mesmerising (not a word you hear on these pages very often).
It’s difficult to know which of the stars to watch as they engage in their frantic, often overlapping dialogue, which even after just a few previews look like they’re completely in control of the material.
But Phil found himself unable to take his eyes off all 8 foot 7 inches (or thereabouts) of Goldblum. He’s so tall and with a leggy elegance that even the rotten sightlines from the 4th row of the Old Vic stalls don’t matter. Even if you’re view is blocked by a head in the row in front of you, you’ll still see everything of Goldblum from the ankles up.
And what a stylish wardrobe! Phil envied the way he can carry off a pair of trousers not to mention those beautifully fitted shirts. The Whingers’ party devoted several minutes of their post-play discussions to Goldblum’s nipples which make several appearances through the wonderful tailoring. Kevin Spacey looks diminutive and shabby by comparison (which is a character thing surely – Ed).
Phil wants to create the Goldblum look and is going to insist Andrew gives him a piggy-back everywhere from now on to give him a few extra inches of verticality. Phil may not cut quite the dash of Jeff but he’s having his trousers tailored to conceal Andrew’s struggling body beneath his, and he thinks he might just about be able to carry it off.
Yes Phil was rhapsodising about Goldblum ad nauseam. In his less-than-humble opinion he thought he made the most impressive West End stage debut by a Hollywood star since John Malkovich graced Burn This or Spacey himself in The Iceman Cometh. “Completely charismatic with tremendous stage presence,” was his gushing “analysis”. But please bear in mind that Phil’s hormones are all in a bit of a tizz at the moment. But unlike Andrew, at least he’s still producing some.
But back to the production: full marks to the anti-writing Matthew Warchus for getting the pace and the performances and it’s just a shame that any of the people involved have to contend with the rather dire second act whose change of pace might look good on paper but drags rather.
The other problem with the play is that the book – The Bridge; or, Radiation, and the Half-Life of Society – just sounds so barking mad and dire that it seems astonishing that Gould would ever even consider it but apparently Mamet thinks it’s a credible alternative.
Anyway, plaudits too to designer Rob Howell for the set which knocks – as does everything else about this production – Swimming with Sharks into a cocked hat.
Conclusion: a veritable hit – that’s three in a row for Spacey (All About My Mother, Cinderella) who is seemingly getting into his stride in his tenure as “artistic” director at the Old Vic. So the Whingers have thrown caution to the wind and booked for Pygmalion starring their dear friend Una Stubbs (right).