Speed-the-Plow, Old Vic, London
The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other, NT, Lyttelton, London
Scarborough, Royal Court Upstairs, London

There'll be another gag along in a minute: Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum play David Mamet's tale of Hollywood greed very fast and funny

Kevin Spacey almost somersaults – tumbling through the office door, panting – as the lights snap on in Matthew Warchus' new staging of Speed-the-Plow. Obviously, David Mamet's sardonic portrait of avaricious film producers gains oomph when real Hollywood stars – Spacey and Jeff Goldblum – are playing Charlie and Bobby, the Philistine duo with a blockbuster film within their grasp.

However, what's remarkable is how far Warchus pushes this modern classic towards screwball comedy and physical clowning. Here, the two studio buddies are so overexcited at the prospect of megabucks that they can't stop farcically hopping and jigging, like small boys on a sugar high. Except that Charlie is taking something a little stronger than sherbet each time he dashes into the washroom.

Spacey is terrific at startling bits of stage business. Hilariously wired, he hurls himself to the floor, having an attack of sit-ups. And he's puffing, all the while, on a cigarette. Meanwhile Goldblum is impossibly tall and wonderfully kooky. His Bobby tries to act cool: sharp-suited, towering over Spacey, and swearing he'll screw the temp, Karen. But he's insecure and ludicrously spindly, with legs like a stick insect. His darting actions – licking his lips – also have a touch of cartoon locust.

These stars are a storming double act. Still, I have seen more chilling productions. In fact, so hastily is Act One presented that large sections of Mamet's patterned dialogue get swallowed in overlapping interruptions. I found this exhilarating then wearying. The play becomes rather a bore when Laura Michelle Kelly's Karen – supposedly on a mission to convert Bobby to a purer cause – bangs on about a rambling apocalyptic novel.

Nonetheless, the closing battle over the two film projects and Bobby's soul is thrillingly potent. Spacey is by now ferocious and desperate. The final victory is not just sardonic either. Which rival might have saved Bobby from himself remains ambiguous, a matter for debate.

In many ways The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other is a lovely antidote to dramatic conflict. This quietly absorbing piece, by the avant-gardist Peter Handke, dispenses with a host of theatrical conventions. In the course of an hour and a half, 450 characters simply cross a town square. There is no storyline. They just come and go, seemingly randomly, and no one exchanges a word.

This is at once strange and instantly familiar. It's as if you – or Handke or director James Macdonald – have been sitting on a bench just watching life passing: joggers, a skateboarder, a businessman chasing a pickpocket, girls giggling. It also grows surreal. There's a man with a cradle for a hat, Moses with a stone tablet, and a panic-stricken crowd beckoned by two figures in gorgeous tribal costumes who drift by in a gondola. It's as if the square is everywhere or everywhen.

Some vignettes are too caricatured, cute or clichéd. Moreover, you might feel that Handke – he created this in the 1990s – is not so much avant-garde as indebted to Cartier-Bresson, de Chirico, Ionesco and Jacques Lecoq.

Nonetheless, Hildegard Bechtler's cityscape of raw concrete buildings is eerie, somewhere between an architect's model and a bombsite, haunted by occasional apocalyptic sirens and gales. Meanwhile Macdonald's ensemble (Sarah Woodward, Justine Mitchell, Jason Thorpe and two dozen more) are fabulously mercurial and beautifully choreographed, creating an ebb and flow that feels eternal.

Finally, I left Scarborough knowing secrets about the characters but in a state of incomprehension. Warning: it is pretty much impossible to discuss Fiona Evans' Fringe First-winning play without giving away at least two dramatic surprises. However, let me begin by saying the opening half is enthrallingly intimate in this London premiere, directed by Deborah Bruce.

A laddy teenager called Daz (Jack O'Connell) is having a naughty weekend, in a seaside B&B, with his raunchy twenty-something lover, Lauren (Holly Atkins). They're having a laugh. She's doing a jokey reverse strip-tease, twirling her belt as she gets dressed. He's bouncing on the bed to wind up the landlady.

This is twice as engrossing because you're right there with them, as if theatre-going has turned into a game of voyeuristic sardines. Punters are perched on the windowsill and the bedside tables and, in my case, under the standard lamp – where Lauren's twirling belt almost tickled my nose. Both actors are superbly natural, comical and painfully confused. The revelation, and complex moral problem, is that she is his teacher.

What I don't understand is why we then have to sit through the same script all over again, with a teenage girl and a male schoolmaster. What sex they are makes little difference ethically, and the performances are less emotionally searching the second time around. Why bother?



'Speed-the-Plow" (0870-060 6628) to 26 April; 'The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other' (020-7452 3000) to 5 March; 'Scarborough' (020-7565 5000) to 15 March

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk