(l-r) Luke Hewitt & Steve Turner. Photo - Jon Green
The Perth Theatre Company has a winner on their hands with their latest production, Speed-The-Plow, if the opening night was anything to go by. This David Mamet play, written in 1988 and directed by Mel Cantwell, is a satire about the morals and values of Tinseltown and the sacrifice of pure art for commercialism; a theme that Mamet would later revisit in two films, Wag the Dog and State and Main.
In the opening scenes, two mid-level Hollywood producers, Bobby Gould (Steve Turner) and Charlie Fox (Luke Hewitt) are alive with a shadiness and verbose energy that would befit any of the great Restoration comedies. Gould is sitting in his new office in his newly appointed position as head of production when Fox bounces in with more nervous energy than a Disney character on speed. Fox has stumbled across the chance of a lifetime when the latest A-list actor agrees to star in a script Fox sent him. With his mate Gould now in the driving seat it’s practically a done deal. What ensues is an extremely well-paced double-act of frenzied excitement packed with big-noting and brown-nosing between Gould and Fox.
Turner and Hewitt do a wonderful job with Mamet’s notoriously mannered dialogue. There are only a few places where believability is sacrificed for performance and some of the sense is lost. Hewitt is a powerhouse to behold. His portrayal of the strung-out Charlie Fox is an absolute delight. In many ways this character carries the pace of the play and Hewitt’s timing is impeccable. His incredulousness as Gould asks him, “Have you read that book?” and Fox replies, “I read the cover – what do you want from me – blood?” is as colorable as it is funny.
Steve Turner and Gemma Northover (as Karen, Gould’s secretary) are wonderful together in a scene in which Karen’s enraptured belief in a book she believes should be made into a film must produce a dionysiac-like change of heart in Gould. Northover’s performance ensures that we believe this and that in some way we believe that, despite her willingness to exchange sex for the chance to be a part of something she believes in, her integrity is still intact. Northover has an almost Uma Thurman like quality in her manner and she’s a pleasure to watch.
Gould, the only character to undergo any significant catharsis, is given a surprising amount of depth by Turner (although he plays slick and sleazy exceptionally well), and Hewitt steals the show in the closing scene of the play, in which he must fight to win back his man.
Although Mamet’s script has lost some of its edge, being 20 years old, the subject is still a modern obsession, perhaps more so. It’s the interplay between the sexes that one smiles at, especially having seen the recent Black Swan production, Female of the Species. Lines like “(you’re just) a tight pussy wrapped around ambition” (wonderfully delivered by Hewitt) may not hold the sway they would have in the 80s, but are incredibly indicative of that era.
Claude Marcos’ set design deserves a mention. It’s wonderful. It’s extremely clever and gives a sense that you’re actually watching a film. An unfinished new office is transformed into a lavish and warm Hollywood exec’s living room, replete with open fire and a brick wall seemingly appearing out of nowhere, in a matter of seconds. Such is the joy of the theatre when it’s in the hands of clever and innovative technicians like Marcos, Cantwell and Andrew Lake (lighting design). Cantwell has done a wonderful job with the pacing of this dialogue-rich play. Often in plays such as this, the audience can feel too removed from the action and the characters, but Cantwell has managed to avoid this and the whole production works extremely well.
Go and see Speed-The-Plow; it’s a shining example of Perth talent.
Perth Theatre Company presents
By David Mamet
Venue: Playhouse Theatre, 3 Pier St, Perth
Dates: Saturday 19 July – 2 August
Times: Tuesday – Saturday @ 7.30pm, Mondays @ 6.30pm
Matinees: Saturday 26 July & 2 August @ 2.15pm
Tickets: Stan: $46.50/Conc $37.50/Groups: 6+ ppl $40
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing 9434 1133 www.bocticketing.com.au