So it’s official: Lindsay Lohan will be the latest US film star treading the West End boards at the Playhouse Theatre in David Mamet’s Speed the Plow this autumn.
The last big US star to perform at the Playhouse Theatre was Val Kilmer in 2005 in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Like Lohan, he had arrived hoping to rebrand what had in more recent years become a fading career by cutting his teeth in the West End. Sadly, he did not achieve the desired box office success. But Kilmer is an actor of proven consummate skill and is greatly respected by those who like serious drama.
In contrast, Lohan is known mostly for films such as Mean Girls and The Parent Trap – not for her work in contemporary American drama. Today she is also better known for the media circus that follows her antics off-screen making her more associated with infamy than talent. So, is this choice of casting really going to make a connection to a David Mamet play-going audience?
Of course, the argument can be given that Lohan’s casting is for the very purpose of bringing a “new” audience to theatre and introducing them to arguably American theatre’s greatest modern dramatist. In the press, her casting is already being compared to that of Madonna who appeared in the same role in the 1988 Broadway production.
It is entirely the wrong comparison to make.
Madonna is an icon. In her West End debut in Up for Grabs by David Williamson, she made a tactical choice of a play nobody knew, which meant there were no comparisons to be drawn to past productions of a highly respected play. Regardless of what she was appearing in, or how her performance was rated in it, she’s an inevitable box office cert. Lohan does not offer those same guarantees.
Much will be riding for her on this first stage outing: if got right, it could offer her credibility; got wrong, this could easily be car crash theatre. That places inordinate pressure on her as the box office name and probably expensive non-appearance insurance.
Yet despite all this, or maybe because of it, I question if there is a will from the public and media to see her fail. Is this unfair or simply reflecting how the British media and public love to knock someone down and build them back up again? If she has been auditioned and cast because of her acting talent then nobody should have the right to criticise her until the opening night. However, if this is purely a casting “gimmick” (and which again will become apparent on opening night), then one has to question if this damages the West End’s own drama credentials.
Why has Lohan chosen the West End and not Broadway? Is it because, as a US actor making a comeback, you can better bury a disaster here? Would she even be afforded lead billing on a Broadway marquee?
Great caution is therefore needed, for if the West End becomes about Hollywood actors whose careers have hit a bad patch coming over “to do a play” then our own credibility and reputation as a serious player on the international stage will be in question.