In Defence of Lindsay Lohan
In what has become the biggest opening of the theatrical season, Lindsay Lohan’s West End stage debut has created a stir amongst audiences, critics and professionals within the industry. Whilst a Hollywood icon treading the boards is hardly a rare occurrence these days either in London or New York, the weight of expectation on their shoulders, and the sharks circling ready to pull them down, begins to build from the moment the first press release is sent, and in this case have risen to epic proportions.
LiLo’s personal history overshadows her work in every way. Famed for her lifestyle and antics above her film credits, she has taken on a personality that goes way above her IMDB entry, entering into a different realm of celebrity altogether, and one which many people are quick to condemn. There is something deeply ironic about The Daily Mail’s review of the show that slams the Producers for appealing to the ‘trashy world we inhabit’ that revolves around celebrity. This is from the paper that wouldn’t exist without their sidebar of shame, single-handedly making public heroes out of vacuous figures from the land of TOWIE and Made in Chelsea.
In bringing Lohan to the stage, Theatre Royal Bath Productions have taken an incredible risk mounting a production that rides (almost) solely on her name above the title. Not since Elizabeth Taylor has there been a star so unpredictable that audiences attend almost in the hope that things begin to go wrong, which is both cruel yet in some way inevitable. The hugely talented team behind the production have mounted a commercial production, with the hope to make money. Does anyone other than Max Bialystock do the opposite?
Now I love ‘Mean Girls’ as much as the next sensible person, and ‘The Parent Trap’ has been a favourite for years, but those aside I could never profess to be a particular Lohan ‘fan’. I do however feel compelled to spring to her defense against those who seem to be going out of their way to destroy her, the producers and the production in what I find to be quite a vindictive and vile manner.
One of the main criticisms thrown out this morning is the cynicism of celebrities being ‘parachuted’ in to improve ticket sales. This is not new. Just a ten minute walk up to The Dominion Theatre, the exact same thing is happening 8 times a week as Marti Pellow proves to be an abomination to theatre, walking through the role of ‘Che’ in an otherwise pleasing revival of ‘Evita’. Critics were (almost) unanimous in their criticisms of this ‘celebrity’ (albeit Pellow is hardly on the same celebrity scale as Lohan), but their criticisms have been polite and within the context of the show. Pellow may not need an onstage prompt (he has played the role for over a year on tour), but he simply cannot sing the score, reach many of the notes, keep time, or quite frankly do anything but brood. The response to his performance was at least polite in its attack and criticisms of the producers hoping to ‘cash in’ have not been aired in quite the same way.
Both the producers of ‘Speed-the-Plow’ and ‘Evita’ use the weight of such stars to justify a revival of both shows, which could never be accused of being ‘underdone’. There is a certain reliance on their fan base to buy tickets, support the actors and in turn discover a piece of theatre they may have otherwise never gone near. In the case of Pellow, his inability to deliver in a leading role of a musical are no surprise to most people who have sat through ‘Blood Brothers’ or ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, but Lohan is a new ‘victim’ ripe for the slaughter and one on much wider international platform.
‘Speed-the-Plow’ could never be described as a masterpiece; even at his best, Mamet is Marmite, so the platform Lohan is given doesn’t provide much scope for redemption. As always with Mamet, it’s the language and interactions between the characters that provide the interest and it’s a difficult style for any actor to successfully manage. The production never really takes off – the scenes feel too short and inconsequential, which is never the fault of the actors or Posner’s sharp direction. True, the crux of the play relies on the Lohan heavy second act as her character needs to realistically convince Bobby to give up his dream and change direction.
Could you find someone better to play the part? Absolutely. I wouldn’t have imagined anyone involved with the production is pretending Lohan is the best actress for the role, but in the commercial West End, as Bill Kenwright’s ‘Evita’ also shows, other factors come into play. The same thing is happening all over the West End, from new productions to long running musicals. It only takes someone from ‘Emmerdale’ to go into ‘Wicked’ for every person on Twitter with a black and white headshot to throw their arms up in despair at “the state of theatre” and how unfair the industry is. Does the best actor always get the role? No. We all know this. It may not be an ideal situation for actors, agents and critics, but it’s a method that clearly brings in audiences, and the producers of ‘Speed-the-Plow’ cannot be accused of doing something that isn’t already being done in the theatre industry the world over.
Was this a car crash? Far from it. The weight of negative expectation in this case meant that most went to the opening with their knives already out, racing to be the first to stick it in – almost fighting to see who could take the deepest cut. It’s pleasing that many reviewers have allowed themselves to be surprised by the outcome, but others seem to be taking pleasure in rudely criticising. I for one am pleased for LiLo and what she has achieved. Let’s hope now the drama of opening night is over she fulfils her contract and proves the sceptics wrong.