The Arcola's new Studio 2 continues to programme more stuff I want to see than its Studio 1; this time it's a double bill of little-known short plays by David Mamet. Designer Helen Goddard has transformed the studio with rusty-looking walls for the longer piece, Lakeboat. Steven Webb is Dale, joining the crew as stories of just what happened to his predecessor are spreading like wildfire. The ship's populated by a number of eccentrics and we get to know their stories and preoccupations, and some of their wildest dreams. Director Abbey Wright has done possibly the best job I've seen of harnessing Mamet's trademark snappy dialogue and the cast (with uniformly good American accents - Tim Charrington is dialect coach) deliver it with perfect timing. Rory Keenan's delivery of a particularly filthy speech is downright spectacular and earned a round of applause tonight, helped by Webb who, while not exactly the most versatile of actors, still gives the best reactions in the business.
Nigel Cooke also plays a memorable part in Lakeboat but he comes even more to the fore in the shorter Prairie du Chien. On a long train journey, he relates a creepy story to Ed Hughes' Listener, while in the background a card game gets nasty. The most noticeable thing here is the change of pace to something more leisurely and possibly sinister, which the same cast handle as well as they do the frenetic opener. (Although myself and another theatre blogger present were baffled as to why an actor who didn't appear in the first one, William Jeffs, was here in the almost-entirely-silent role of the Listener's son - if they were going to cast an adult as a child anyway, would Webb, who isn't in the second play, not have done?¹) Also, don't ask me why Wright opens the show by having Rory Keenan dance around the stage in a dress for a few seconds. Oddities aside this is an entertaining pair of playlets, and is a bonus if you like men with beards because, receding hairline or no receding hairline, Hughes is lovely (amazing eyes) and Keenan isn't hard to look at either.
Lakeboat and Prairie du Chien by David Mamet is booking until the 7th of May at Arcola Studio 2.
¹actually I did chuckle at a line in Lakeboat where Dale is told he looks older than his 18 years; I guess even as fresh-faced a 26-year-old as Webb can only keep playing teenagers for so long