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A CurtainUp London Review
Swimming with Sharks
I did enjoy the humour of the first act, the vitriolic lines of the dreadful Buddy Ackermann and the wise words of advice of the outgoing assistant Rex (Arthur Darvill) to his newbie successor Guy. Anyone who has suffered at the hands of a bullying boss will cringe at the indignities and shouting rages Buddy inflicts on poor Guy for supposed "crimes" like bringing him the wrong sort of coffee sweetener. Buddy holds all the cards until the studio boss Cyrus (Jonathan Newth) decides that he wants his next movie to be more upmarket and that the top job will go to the producer who pulls this off. All around Buddy's office are lurid posters of his gory, blockbuster box office successes.
Guy uses Dawn Lockard (Helen Baxendale), Buddy's rival and another hard bitten movie executive, to secure a script from Buddy's opposition within the Studio. Like a litany Guy can recite a long list of the winners of Best Picture at the Oscars, "Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, Terms of Endearment, Amadeus, Out of Africa, Platoon, The Last Emperor, Rain Man and chanting this list is Guy's displacement activity when most stressed, as if to remind himself of the heights of the film business, when he is suffering its depths. Some of the witty lines here are so topical as to have been inserted for this production and I suspect that is where some of the play's imbalance originates in lengthening the office comedy with sadism component. A 101 minute film has gained 20-25 minutes playing time in the theatre not counting the interval.
The issue here is whether Guy will triumph with decency and integrity or will he learn to become just like Buddy? In the second act, Guy doesn't exactly imitate Buddy but one of Buddy's sadistic and unpleasantly, torturing movies. I didn't find it believable and the violence seemed to me to be gratuitous, making me wish I could have left at the interval.
Christian Slater appears rather stiff in the part and his vocal range seems not to vary enough in a stage setting. He is content to shout at his victim rather than to mercurily switch from malignancy to opportunism but he does pace the stage like a bear. He is facially impassive as if his suspiciously smooth forehead had been frozen to fill out the wrinkles. This could be in character as Buddy Ackerman might be the type to employ Botox! Matt Smith looks like a klutz initially but I really didn't care enough to want him to overcome the ghastly Buddy. We know Helen Baxendale has real acting balls but the role of Dawn doesn't give her much opportunity to show her full talent and Dawn and Guy seem a very unlikely couple.
The glass set is all steel and expensive furniture with disco scenes played with bright lights and loud music. Swimming with Sharks will please those who want to see a movie star onstage but I cannot see it doing great box office in London. When will theatre producers be less ready to back theatre versions of successful films and more ready to promote material written for the stage? Unlikely while productions like Dirty Dancing are doing so very well.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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