Review – Swimming with Sharks with Christian Slater, Vaudeville Theatre

Friday 9 November 2007

It’s unusual for the Whingers to be asked to anything these days. Andrew never got invited to anything anyway but persists in inviting all his Facebook “friends” to any feast that moves in in a deluded hope they will reciprocate.

So when an invitation came for the Whingers to go and review Swimming with Sharks Andrew found there was no diary to be cleared as he already had more windows than The Gherkin.

Phil was very keen to see Swimming with Sharks having himself once swum with a shark. Well, to be accurate, it was a dolphin but he believed it to be a shark when a fin popped up behind him in the sea. He ran up the beach shrieking “shark! shark!” in a scene reminiscent of Jaws. To add to his embarrassment he was met by hundreds of sun worshippers rushing i the other direction to swim with the dolphin. He felt as deflated as his Hello Kitty water wings.

Should we just re-wind a bit? Something you read earlier that jarred rather?

Yes, someone actually got in contact on behalf of a major West End show and invited the West End Whingers to come and review it. For free. You have to admire their optimism. Or desperation. Or lack of research.

Anyway, it naturally meant an extensive review of the West End Whingers’ ethics policy:

  • What on earth would we do if we felt ourselves more kindly disposed to the show out of gratitude?
  • Without having forked out ready money for a ticket, would they really care one way or another what the play was like?
  • Was it an act against the whole ethos of theatre blogging and was this a first step towards the dark side of theatre criticism?
  • If so, would we be obliged to locate the play within the wider discourse?
  • What is a wider discourse?
  • Suppose we didn’t like it, said so and were never invited to see anything ever again?

But then the Whingers thought, “Oh, what the hell? It’s a free ticket.”

So unhitching themselves from the horns of the dilemma they went down The Strand (have a banana) to the Vaudeville Theatre to pick up not only their complimentary tickets but a complimentary programme too! Things were looking promising, Andrew hadn’t had this many compliments since he managed to stay awake for the full fifty minutes of Caryl Churchill’s Drunk Enough To Say I Love You?

Swimming with Sharks is based on the 1994 cult film starring Kevin Spacey and tells the story of Guy (Matt Smith), a fresh-faced naive film graduate who gets the chance to work for top schlock producer and all round nasty piece of work Buddy Ackerman (Christian Slater). Despite hooking up romantically with producer Dawn Lockard (Helen Baxendale) who brings with her the chance to make a worthwhile film, Guy is soon out of his depth in the machinations of Hollywood intrigue and the play charts his slide into moral bankruptcy.

The Whingers were approaching Swimming with Sharks from very different directions. Phil had seen the film and thoroughly enjoyed it, mainly because Spacey’s incredible portrayal of ruthless Hollywood producer Buddy Ackerman is one of the great screen villains of its era. Andrew had seen neither the film nor Christian Slater on stage.

One thing they could agree on was that they couldn’t summon up much enthusiasm for Dick Bird‘s set. Buddy’s office sits on a raised platform and is enclosed with a ceiling and sliding doors, muffling the sound of any dialogue and adding a distancing effect. There was much opening and closing of said doors (each accompanied by a clunky lighting change) and they had to be opened so wide to allow you to see or hear anything that it became faintly ridiculous. Indeed, there was so much door-related activity that Phil half expected Gywneth Paltrow to make an appearance.

There were some mildly amusing posters of Buddy’s slasher movies (“Grind 2”, “Graduate Graves”, “Skin Farm” and so on) hanging around the set but Phil was utterly distracted by the rather slapdash way in which they had been glued to the backing board, resulting in large air bubbles. Phil found this completely unrealistic as Ackerman is such a perfectionist that he would never have put up with such shoddy workmanship. The Whingers certainly wouldn’t (not other people’s, anyway).

There’s a lot of bad language and general nastiness – more nastiness than was credible to Andrew’s way of thinking (which is saying something). Andrew wasn’t convinced for a moment by Ackerman’s character and found the whole thing rather “over there” perhaps because whereas a Hollywood film about Hollywood film-making might have a certain amount of resonance, a play at the Vaudeville about evil studio execs simply doesn’t. Even if it does star Christian Slater (strangely – or perhaps not – the majority of the audience seemed to be American judging by the conversations the Whingers overheard).

On top of all this, the play broke one of the cardinal rules of theatre: never try to portray a buzzing bar or club scene. Being able to see two people dancing through a briefly opened door not a convincing directorial solution, thank you Wilson Milam.

Only towards the end did it start to become engaging, thanks mainly to the torture scene (which, incidentally is intercut throughout the story in the original film) but even this proved unconvincing. When Guy applied a paper cut to Buddy’s face, both Whingers noticed that Guy folded the paper and used the creased edge – we mean, really. Andrew promptly demonstrated how it should be done on Phil’s face adding a few more lines to his already busy road map of wrinkles.

But Phil got his revenge. Guy’s obsessiveness about film sees him recite a long and rather impressive list of famous films. Andrew disappointed Phil by asking, “What was the significance of the films he kept listing” and Phil took great delight in informing Andrew that they were the winners of the Best Picture Academy Awards in reverse chronological order. Phil felt very smug and rejoiced at Andrew’s shocking lack of film knowledge. A list of Lana Turner’s movies might have struck a chord.

On other matters, the programme (cost unknown) is actually not bad with a feature about films about films (NB not plays at the Vaudeville about films) with a fabulous picture of Gloria Swanson filming Sunset Boulevard. The Whingers also liked the article from the ongoing “London’s Lost Theatres” series – this one about the Alhambra Theatre Leicester Square. Or perhaps it just seemed a better programme than usual because it was free.


One Response to “Review – Swimming with Sharks with Christian Slater, Vaudeville Theatre”

  1. Ray Says:

    I think you’ll find Guy folded the paper in order to give Buddy cuts with the staples in the crease, which are worse than paper cuts.

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