Speed-the-Plow - Review

A guest review by Barry Hewlett-Davies

Though I’ve been going to plays at NVT for 20 years. I cannot claim to have seen everything so you can fault my judgment for being incomplete. That aside, it seems to me that this production ought to be acknowledged for what it is – a quite considerable achievement in acting and direction, a show to be remembered for years.

The title is an old fashioned wish for rural prosperity. David Mamet chose it to reflect the cynical motives of the American film industry, looking to create success at the Box Office for profit alone and the hell with art. Mamet would have put that more strongly but I don’t want to upset anybody.

He knows a great deal about art v profit. When he wrote the play more than 20 years ago, it was his contribution to the American theatre’s attack on the cinema – a Hollywood script about a Hollywood script.

The attack began long ago with a Broadway musical called Once In A Lifetime.

With an eye to the main chance, Hollywood seized on it and turned it into Singing in the Rain with Gene Kelly. Thanks to successful TV deals, it is still a hot property. Dog swallowed dog wholesale and the accountants cheer as the money keeps rolling into the bank. Speed-the-Plow !

Mamet is not easy to be with. For one thing, he writes in uniquely American English. And the relationships he creates are not only expressed by words, they grow out of them.

The production is directed with a great deal of insight by Steven O’Shea. He also plays Charlie Fox. Opposite him are Robert Cohen, as Bobby Gould, his boss, and Marie Ellis, his apparently warm-hearted and apparently naïve temporary secretary. All three behave like and accuse each other of being whores.

All three turn in superb performances, impeccably timed.

Forgive my dreadful play on words, but for a lot of the evening, I was convinced Steven O’Shea was, indeed Charlie, the Twentieth Century Fox. But the fox is Robert Cohen with a performance worthy of Volpone, cunning, greedy, a cynic with the most persuasive eyebrows I’ve seen in ages.

“I wanted to do Good”, he wails at the end, “ – but I became foolish.” To which you can only answer: “Oh yeh ?!”