Review – Speed-the-Plow with Jeff Goldblum and Kevin Spacey, Old Vic, London

Wednesday 6 February 2008

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).


16 Responses to “Review – Speed-the-Plow with Jeff Goldblum and Kevin Spacey, Old Vic, London”

  1. Statler Says:

    Just as well you weren’t in the audience we were on Saturday night when the technical hitch was much more serious and involved not backstage – but one of the bars! It left the Pit bar somewhat crowed pre-show.

    Thoughts on the show similar to yours, and I definitely preferred the sound of the ‘prison movie’ to that other nonsense.

    Has the stage fighting improved since Saturday when it looked like two old blokes wanting to make sure there was no risk of doing any damage to themselves or each other.

    The seats must have been oiled especially for your visit as they were still creaky on Saturday night. We’ve not got any more London trips planned for a while but please do send us an application form to become “Friends of the Whingers”.

  2. Simone Says:

    Looking forward to see this on Monday night now, thanks for the heads up guys!

  3. webcowgirl Says:

    “Speed the Plew, rhymes with Flew?”

    Well, I thought it was entertaining enough but not brilliant. Both of us felt that the pacing wasn’t quite right in the first scene and I, for one, felt myself yearning for Pinter’s long silences. I swear the unrelenting back and forth dialogue wasn’t so much mesmerizing as it was, er, unrelenting and irritating. It seemed so unlikely that both of these guys would talk in exactly the same way. And that damned book! It was clear every time someone read from it how horrible it was supposed to be, but GOD it made scene 2 drag.

    Phil is, of course, totally right to obsess about Jeff Goldblum, and I agree that it was a great West End Debut for him. Your review makes me feel SO shorted about skipping out on drinks in favor of a salutary early night. I promise to stay later on Saturday – my health is really improving and I’m due for a dishing session.

    (PS: Someone reading this over my shoulder said, “I love that they spend as much time taking the piss out of each other as they do reviewing the show.)

  4. Rusty Says:

    Why doesn’t the Goldblum character agree to make both films saving us from so much of this rubbish play? Just a thought.

  5. Simone Says:

    Rusty, why did you think it was rubbish?

  6. Rusty Says:

    The performances and design are great it’s just the writing. It’s a dated one-joke sketch and the second act….!

  7. Steve Grundman Says:

    Saw it Thursday night, and the Goldblum/Spacey performances worked the crowd, and me, to delight. The second act is a problem, I think, though I can’t quickly discern if its the script, acting, or direction. I’ll finger the direction, as the culminating circular pacing the Goldblum does gave me nothing to explain his transformation. Wouldn’t there also have to have been some sexual chemistry between the two for the plausibility of the whole thing to have worked.

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the show so much I’m willing to wish they could fix up whatever it is that’s wrong in the second act.

  8. Simone Says:

    Just saw it and what a truly fantastic show. Three curtain calls!

  9. sue fennell Says:

    Enjoyed the play, seen Sat 2 Feb, good 2nd row seat in the middle. On reflecton a bit of explanation for Gould’s change of heart would aid the plot – maybe its just a case of 20 years buddyism running deep! At the stage door, thought the autograph hutch looked like a tea hatch and had it been open would have been tempted to ask for one tea, milk, no sugar please, so preferring something stronger moved on!

  10. Paul Burke Says:

    Saw the play Sat 9th Feb. The play is set in 3 parts. 1st part has Spacey/Goldblum in a fast paced witty opening, 2nd part is a bit slow but the crux to the play and 3rd part is explosive, with Kevin Spacey in particular quite superb. Recommended

  11. Simone Says:

    I wanted to give the box office another fiver for a fantastic evening. Had a fabulous time.

  12. […] was under fire rather than on fire. The West End Whingers give credit where credit is due in their blog review of the show: “Conclusion: a veritable hit – that’s three in a row for Spacey (All […]

  13. Roy Says:

    We saw the play a week ago and thought the acting was superb (from Spacey and Goldblum). Unfortunately Laura Michelle Kelly was average, at best. Her voice (of which you hear a LOT of it in the second act) was like a knife in the ear, and she really did bring down the level of acting. That said, Spacey and Goldblum pushed that level so high that it was always going to be a stretch to keep up. To watch Spacey and Goldblum interact the way they did on stage really showed how good acting can be, and it was awe-inspiring to see them. Overall, the play is highly recommended, not so much for the plot, nut just to see how impressive acting can really be.

  14. Cosmic Says:

    Mmmmm…..for some reason I didn’t laugh at all through the 90 mins, the second part, bedroom scene, I totally switched off and nodded on and off, the last part I was kinda guessing the plot behind the book the temp had written that was being pushed……
    For the £120 I spent on the tickets, sitting behind a big butch man that turned out to be a woman that was swaying from side to side did get on my goat, especially when she laughed when nobody was laughing ! Not my cup of tea but I did go and see it!

  15. Bonker Says:

    Saw this on Easter Saturday.

    Overall it was great with an amazing performance by Spacey backed up admirably by the enigmatic Goldblum.

    The second act is bad – I was rewriting it in my head whilst watching it. Goldblum’s character is woefully underwritten here leading to a terrible jolt into the 3rd act.

    Definitely worth seeing though!

  16. keithmansfield Says:

    The Old Vic is gorgeous, it’s a brilliant set, but (as everyone agrees) a woeful second act. Until it was saved by the third, I was wondering if Spacey had been about to stage a hugely popular piece of theatre, only to sleep with someone the night before who persuaded him to switch to something that claimed to be artistically credible but, in the cold light of day, proved to be nothing but dross. But I think the third act did salvage it.

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