My night with Lindsay Lohan showed why the critics can go hang

Theatre audiences like to make up their own minds – especially if a celebrity phenomenon’s up on stage

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The Independent Online

It's almost like the plot of “The Producers”. A play opens to poor reviews - it was described variously as “a car crash” and “a train wreck” - and it becomes a huge success because audiences want to see for themselves how bad it is.

This may come from the same voyeuristic, ghoulish human impulse that makes people interested in inspecting an accident on road or rail, but maybe it's more to do with cultural curiosity, with a reluctance to take a critic's word for anything, with a genuine desire to form a view based on first-hand experience.

Certainly, there were very few empty seats in the house for David Mamet's "Speed-The-Plow" - featuring the West End debut of Lindsay Lohan - and the reception was enthusiastic, defying received opinion. At this point, I should declare an interest. Richard Schiff, who plays the lead role of Hollywood producer Bobby Gould, has become a good friend of mine. I interviewed him after he appeared in a one-man show in London more than seven years ago, and we found we had a few things in common - notably golf and that other pursuit beloved of middle-aged Jewish men, kvetching (whose dictionary definition is “complaining in a persistent, whining way").

 

Schiff is best known for his Emmy-winning portrayal of White House strategist Toby Ziegler in the peerless TV drama "The West Wing". The laconic, dyspeptic, almost misanthropic character of Ziegler is not, it has to be said, a million miles away from Schiff in real life. At a memorial service for John Spencer, a fellow ”West Wing" star, Schiff wrote a poignant valediction, but could not attend the service. Bradley Whitford, another West Wing cast member, read it to the congregation. "Unfortunately, Richard Schiff could not be here today," he said, "because he's appearing in his one-man show... And he hates the entire cast."

 

I was in a small minority of people who'd come to see this accomplished actor strut his stuff on the London stage. Most had come to see Lohan, to see whether she'd remember her lines, to see if she could act, just, actually, to see her, to be up close to a real-life, full-blown, modern-day celebrity phenomenon.

She'd been savaged by one or two critics, but the truth is that she gives a perfectly serviceable portrayal of the temporary secretary who becomes just another Hollywood hustler. She's not a show-stopper, but she's certainly not a disaster, and the odd line she misses out is barely visible to the naked eye. You could argue, however, that her casting is, neatly, an example of the cynicism that Mamet exposes in his play. In Hollywood, it doesn't really matter whether anything is good or bad: what matters is whether the public wants to see it. And the appearance of Lohan can, in a harsh light, be interpreted as a shameless bid by the producers to cash in on her fame, not to showcase her acting talent.

The audience seemed to like it, and her, anyway. They were untainted by critical opinion, perhaps mindful of one of Mamet's most famous quotes: ”My idea of perfect happiness is a healthy family, peace between nations, and all the critics die.“ 

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