The Sydney Theatre Company round out their 2016 season with Speed-the-Plow. David Mamet’s oddly titled 1988 satire of Hollywood has nothing to do with agriculture but much to do with hard work.
The “hard work” is the work of Bobby Gould (Damon Herriman), who has just been elevated to the position of head of production for a major Hollywood studio.
Bobby’s subordinate Charlie (Lachy Hulme) tells Bobby that film star Doug Brown has agreed to make a movie of a script Charlie had sent him months before, and urges Bobby to report this to his studio head immediately. Charlie’s future, and future wealth, depends on the project getting up.
Bobby’s temporary secretary Karen (Rose Byrne) laps up the conversation between the two men and later expresses the desire to be involved in the industry, so Bobby gives her a book which he has taken on as a “courtesy read” – a book he has no intention of making into a film. Karen loves it and that night persuades Bobby to take it on.
The ethical choice Bobby faces is to make a bad film that will put bums on seats or green light a worthy film that will satisfy his conscience, but could bomb at the box office and upset his long-time friend’s hopes to finally become rich.
The subject of Mamet’s play may have been revelatory in 1988, but seems somewhat old hat now. The issues are explored only superficially and are dealt with repetitively in the script, which seems to turn in circles without getting anywhere.
The strongest character is Charlie, who had a powerful stage presence and exemplified the ruthlessness of the American business man.
Rose Byrne underplayed her role in the first act, and only partly redeemed herself in the second. However, she offered glimpses of a serious talent.
The packed audience seemed to enjoy it so perhaps it is I who am somewhat jaded, having seen too many bad Hollywood movies. (ID)
Until Dec 17, evenings & matinees. Roslyn Packer Theatre, 22 Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay. $84-$116. Tickets & info: www.sydneytheatre.com.au