Review: Speed-the-Plow

Parliament Hall, St Andrews, 13 April 2011

Rating: * * * * *


‘Industry produces wealth, God speed the plow.’


David Mamet is considered one of the best modern American dramatists; whether you love him or hate him, he has carved his own niche into theatre. In this little (or not so little) niche, he has earned the honour of having his dialogue style dubbed ‘Mametspeak’. ‘Mametspeak’ is difficult to read. The dialogue is remarkable, make no mistake; it defines his plays, it saves them where plot falters; but you need to hear it.

Speed-the-Plow is a blackly comical satire of the movie industry in America. It concerns the art of producing films which people want to see; the same thing which was produced last year and the year before, anything just to ‘Get The Asses In The Seats’. Unlike some of Mamet’s plays, I liked Speed-the Plow when I first read it; I loved it when I saw Jasper Lauderdale’s production.

On the page, Mamet’s dialogue is plagued with ellipses that give it the impression of being excruciatingly slow. In performance, the characters speak at 100mph, cutting into each other and speaking over each other. It sounds like it would be a mess, but it works like a charm. Yes, some parts may become almost unintelligible in the characters’ excitement; but that is the characters’ excitement, not the actors’. The parts of dialogue that matter are spoken slowly and clearly so you can’t miss them, and the contrast that this provides to the high-speed babble is an effective way to highlight the key points of the play.

Speed-the-Plow is short, with no interval, on top of being fast-paced. The audience has no time to feel bored or lose interest. Lorenzo De Boni and Conor McKeown ruled their parts as Head of Productions Bobby Gould and his underling Charlie Fox. Every line was delivered with a punch, with beautiful comic timing suffusing the performance from well-timed lines to well-timed silence, from grand gestures to the smallest eye movements. Even the way McKeown moved was wonderfully, suitably crawling for his inferior position in the company.

The character of Karen in Speed-the-Plow is the type which gains him accusations of being sexist: she is either a ‘floozy’, or ‘ambitious’ and manipulative; no middle ground. Daria Challah captures the ambivalence of the role very well, moving smoothly from awkward naivete to cut-throat ambition, then back to naivete, to the point where, as she concludes she is being ‘punished’ for her ‘wickedness’, her tone becomes faintly reminiscent of Brittany from Glee, the ultimate ditzy character.

Overall, a very intelligent, entertaining performance with enormous energy and dedication from the actors. Gould and Fox believe they are making what people ‘want’ to see; Lauderdale has made the kind of production that people should want to see.


Ally Lodge

Photo by Oli Walker