Review: Speed-the-Plow (Old Vic Theatre)

Speed-the-Plow at the Old Vic Theatre

Despite what you might think if you have read this blog before, I do go to see straight plays as well as musicals. In fact, rather in the manner of London buses, 2 trips are coming along for me in quick succession. Last night was Speed-the-Plow at the Old Vic, and next Monday is God of Carnage at the Gielgud Theatre.

There are some obvious parallels between the 2 productions. Both have big name film actors in the cast – Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum in the former, and Ralph Fiennes in the latter. Both plays are also directed by the same man – Matthew Warchus. Unsurprisingly, I was pretty excited about both trips.

Spare tickets
Before I even entered the auditorium, I had my first shock of the evening. It turned out that we had a couple of spare tickets within our group which I didn’t want to go to waste. I asked the box office about returning tickets, and because I had booked through Ticketmaster, I was told that I would have to sell them myself to people outside the theatre! Surely that plays into the hands of touts rather than genuine fans who have been queuing? 

Seeing a line of 40-50 people (the show closes on Saturday so there aren’t many more opportunities to see the show), I decided that I would offer the tickets at face value to people who had been queuing. I was pretty surprised when the man at the front of the returns queue who I offered them to tried to haggle with me! He must have there for at least a couple of hours, and was then turning down tickets with no mark-up on them! I couldn’t help wondering whether he was tout looking to make some money for himself. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t have to go much further along the queue to find happy buyers for the spare tickets!


The show itself
Speed-the-Plow is a one-act, 90 minute play by David Mamet. If you want to find out more about it either the play or playwright, check here or here. Bus as the publicity for the show says:

“Mamet’s witty, caustic play – filled with his trademark rapid-fire dialogue satirises the deal making that goes on behind-the-scenes in the movie business. Hollywood producers Bobby Gould and Charlie Fox engage in a verbal boxing match centered around the eternal debate of art versus money.”

Anyone that has seen other Mamet work, including the recently-revived Glengarry Glen Ross, will know how enjoyable the “rapid-fire dialogue” can be. And in this production, Spacey and Goldblum really do justice to fantastic material.


The cast
It’s a cast of three, two of whom are huge Hollywood stars. I thought Kevin Spacey was magnificent, and would have stolen the show in almost every other situation. I can’t recall seeing any other actor who can play slightly-crazed as well as he does. His performance reminded in this show would have been familiar to anyone that saw him last year in A Moon for the Misbegotten, also at the Old Vic, but should take nothing away from his sheer brilliance.

Jeff Goldblum was also tremendous and it was a real treat to see him on the London stage. He had an unceasing nervous energy which was a joy to watch. It seemed like he and Kevin Spacey were having a lot of fun on stage together, and it really showed.

Laura Michelle Kelly had an incredibly tough job being on stage with these two heavyweights and for me, she just wasn’t quite in the same league. Her recent experience has been in musical theatre (Mary Poppins and Lord of the Rings), and I’m not convinced that she was a strong enough dramatic actress to pull off such a demanding part.

The audience needs to believe that Karen is clever enough to manipulate Bobby Gould (Jeff Goldblum) into getting what she wants, and I just wasn’t sure.


The set and staging
Designed by Rob Howell, the set was stunning, with its curved glass and sparse furnishings. The changes between scenes were probably a little too complicated, and the typewriter screen fillers weren’t able to keep the audience’s attention long enough.

Matthew Warchus’ direction was also impressive. Despite a sparse set, and a cast of three people, the pace was pretty relentless (apart from a section in the 2nd act) and the movement was continuous. He was lucky in working with brilliant actors, but the use of the space was very effective.


My overall feeling
I came out of this play feeling as if I had seen two masters at work on stage, performing a very witty, cleverly-directed play. It’s not quite five-stars for me, because the pace did drop in the second act before accelerating again into the finale. 

In fact, a four-star review seems pretty consistent with what the reviewers said – if you don’t believe me, take a look at the Michael Billington’s Guardian review here or Paul Taylor’s Independent review here


runs at the Old Vic Theatre until Saturday 26th April 2008
The cast is Kevin Spacey, Jeff Goldblum and Laura Michelle Kelly


2 Responses to “Review: Speed-the-Plow (Old Vic Theatre)”

  1. 1 richardwillis April 22, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    I attended this production in my capacity as an “invisible spouse”. A role I take peculiar pleasure in, as it enables me to act out out my fantasies of being a cold war secret agent … lurking in the shadows of fabulously decadent surroundings. The Old Vic fulfils that brief perfectly with a faded grandeur that is intoxicating. As a secret member of theatre club, I am always mindful to remember the first rule “… there is no theatre club”.

    I agree with most of the points you make, but don’t feel you managed to convey quite how “rock and roll” it felt. Two Hollywood stars will do that to a production. As I approached the Old Vic I was confronted with a crowd spilling onto the street past the people desperately queuing for returns, beyond that was an oppressively hot foyer crammed to the gills. The mood inside the theatre was ebullient and quietly hesitant in equal measure.

    I agree that Laura Michelle Kelly felt a little thin, but she acted as a stark juxtaposition to the incredible richness of the relationship between the two leads. Their dialogue ebbed and flowed and perfectly conveyed the depth of the relationship of two friends who had maintained a strained yet symbiotic relationship for the past 11 years. Their relationship was totally convincing and morbidly amusing.

    I felt that the leads were perfectly characterised by their attire, Spacey in the slightly ill fitting and down trodden suit of a man who lived life in second place and Goldblum in beautifully tailored and perfectly fitting suits that emphasised his gaunt authority, this was challenged perfectly in the second act where his fragility was exposed in his barefoot silhouette. The personality of the leads dripped off the stage, threatening to engulf the first few rows.

    As I left the theatre, I wished that I could travel back in time to relive the experience all over again. A rare pleasure.

  1. 1 Review: God of Carnage (Gielgud Theatre) « Coloured Lights Trackback on April 29, 2008 at 12:40 pm

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