nick730 (nick730) wrote,

Theatre review: Swimming With Sharks

Another movie gets adapted into a stage production - I haven't seen the original film of Swimming With Sharks although people tell me I should have. In Michael Lesslie's adaptation of George Huang's film, Christian Slater returns to the West End stage to play Buddy Ackerman, the Hollywood producer whose assistants are guaranteed future success - if they can put up with a couple of years of Buddy's constant demands, lies, insults and tendency to throw stationery at their heads.

But the story is really about Buddy's latest assistant, pointedly given the everyman name of Guy (Matt Smith) a nice guy and a movie buff who just wants to make it as a writer in a business he grew up loving. Along the way he meets and falls for Dawn (Helen Baxendale) an up-and-coming producer, and tries to get her to agree to let him and Buddy make her latest film project - unaware that all the time this is part of his boss' plan to work on a "meaningful" film, thus gaining the studio head's respect, and a major promotion.

All three of the leads are very good (and I've never really warmed to Baxendale before, but I guess a Hollywood producer isn't necessarily a role where warmth is needed) and Wilson Milam's production zips along and is very funny. Slater delivers his one-liners to great comic effect, Smith is likeable and the supporting cast are all excellent. Maybe it's the amount of build-up in the publicity about Ackerman being the "boss from hell" but I kept expecting him to do something more horrific than he actually does. His main crime isn't his aggression towards Guy, but the way he manipulates his assistant and lies his way into taking credit for everyone else's work - but I felt that it was pretty obvious what he was doing, and Guy is naive not to spot it earlier, certainly considering the form of revenge he chooses to take on Buddy at the end of the story.

Niggles aside this was great fun, and while it shows Huang's anger at the film industry, it comes across more like a twisted love letter to Hollywood than a condemnation. Dick Bird's set design of Buddy's office is good and serves well as other locations as well - the use of frosted glass makes a transition between and nightclub back to the office really funny. The performance I saw took a while to get warmed up, although I blame that on the audience being very noisy with their sweet wrappers and chatter at the start - honestly if someone had heaved out a picnic basket I wouldn't have been too surprised. One good thing about undersold midweek matinees though - I got a seat upgrade to the Grand Circle and the view was very good.

Oh, and mercifully, this time around Christian Slater managed the appropriate reaction of looking pleased at the applause at the curtain call, rather than trying to force the audience into a standing ovation like he did in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.

Swimming With Sharks by George Huang and Michael Lesslie is booking until the 19th of January at the Vaudeville Theatre.
Tags: matt smith, theatre

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