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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Old Vic

By Matt Wolf

  Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum/PH:Ellis Parrinder

Move over, Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanamaker, or even Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ewan McGregor: London has a dazzling new theatrical double-act, and it comes with - of all things - an American accent: Jeff Goldblum and Kevin Spacey take to the roles of Bobby Gould and Charlie Fox as if to the David Mamet method born in what is the first of the five productions I've seen of Speed-the-Plow to actually cast two genuine Hollywood names in a bruising morality play about, yes, Hollywood. The production looks guaranteed to be one of the biggest hits so far in Spacey's tenure as artistic director of the Old Vic and comes with the fiercest, least forgiving stage turn I've yet seen this two-time Oscar-winner give. Playing the sidekick to Goldblum's fast-rising mogul, Gould, Spacey takes the last of Mamet's three scenes and plays it for something approaching real savagery, to the extent that one sees glimpses of the Jamie Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night with which he first blasted to London attention over 20 years ago.

The actor at first seems as if he might be too manic by half, as Fox careers into Gould's not-yet-fully appointed office like a dog in Hollywood's altogether singular heat. (Rob Howell's set has a great visual gag in a poster that has not yet been hanged of the film Cape Fear.) Spacey's hands so many pinwheels, his Fox demands coffee and talks both at and over his fast-rising buddy, the two playing a brutal race against time to make the sort of exploitation flick that was at the center of one of Spacey's lesser-known films, Swimming With Sharks. (That, in turn, was recently adapted into a West End play of surpassing toothlessness when set against Mamet's screed.) All would be well, except for the arrival bearing coffee of Karen (Laura Michelle Kelly), the secretary temp who gets the men's testosterone going and inadvertently sets in motion the bet on which the plot then hangs. Will Gould succeed in sleeping with her that night, or not? $500 hangs in the balance, not to mention the camaraderie of two men whose bonhomie is seriously scuppered following a nocturnal encounter that finds Gould glimpsing some kind of divine, redemptive light. Or, in Fox's view, losing all common sense.

The give-and-take between the men, eddies and shifts whereby entire careers, friendships, and fortunes hang in the balance, is corrosively seized upon by the name stars, who bounce off one another like a more antic Lewis and Martin - or cite the comic pairings of your choice. In the first act, in particular, the director Matthew Warchus has the men talking in overlapping waves of speech, expletives folded into subtle differentiations between the two, who have known one another 11 years. Talking ceaselessly about putting people first, Gould seems ripe for the near-messianic approach of Kelly's nearly possessed Karen, who taps into Gould's desire to be pure by putting forward for production an end-of-the-world book about fear, radiation, and the ends of things. (And surely this tome, post-9/11, looks rather more plausible now than it did when Speed-the-Plow first opened on Broadway in 1988, with Madonna in its cast.)

The rub, of course, is that Karen's motives themselves aren't nearly as pure as they might seem, and Kelly gets arguably the most spine-tingling moment on any London stage as the audience awaits her response to a question late in the play that will end up speaking both to her future and to Charlie Fox's sanity, or lack thereof. Spacey here is in simply tremendous form in a sustained sequence during


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