Benchmark, New End Theatre, Hampstead, London

Celebrity star proves a bigger draw than play's quick schtick
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The Independent Culture

We all know Hollywood is a cruel, unforgiving mistress. One moment you're making an Oscar acceptance speech, the next you are on a park bench, grey hair in a ponytail and a rucksack at your feet, searching for Tibetan serenity.

We all know Hollywood is a cruel, unforgiving mistress. One moment you're making an Oscar acceptance speech, the next you are on a park bench, grey hair in a ponytail and a rucksack at your feet, searching for Tibetan serenity.

And who should sit down next to you but your former producer partner, now reduced to running his office (two mobiles and a laptop) from the same park furniture?

It's no coincidence – whatever is in Tinseltown? This uncanny 17-years-on confluence has been contrived by the woman they have, between them, married three times. Enter Jerry Hall, more statuesque than a Giacometti and about as animated. She can now command a three-movie deal and, for a simple favour, bench-bound producer is in for a slice. All he has to do is shoot his buddy.

Like the movies they are supposed to have produced, the lines are snappy and unremittingly hollow: "I get up early, no matter what the time is''; "I'm serene, goddammit!'', and "when I'm happy these days I'm never happy''. Harry Ditson (would-be assassin) and Stefan Greif (Tibetan ponytail) do their best with the one-liners but they seem to know that every passionate speech is there for the pay-off. So when one describes how Buddhist corpses are eaten by vultures, you are waiting for "sounds like your movie career''.

A West Coast version of Zoo Story, Bud Shrake's play makes huge demands of its actors. A bench on a tiny stage and relentless duologue mean that the performers must create all the life and mystery. But Michael Rudman's production opts for the quick schtick. As a result, a few genuine moments go by the board.

The superstar actress who manipulates everyone and still comes back for the overweight, over-the-hill ex smacks of male wish-fulfilment. And the final pay-off (hitmen and sex kittens) is frankly silly. But not half as silly as seeing London's "Theatre-ati" flock to a Hampstead 100-seater because the female lead is played by a former rock wife with a wobbly accent and tresses to die for.

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