Speed the Plow at the New Ambassadors

There can be few businesses as obsessed with money or as devoid as ethics as the film business in Hollywood - or so David Mamet's 1988 satire would have us believe. The fact the playwright-turned-screenwriter has himself profited from that business as much as any serious writer could ever hope to either taints this production with hypocrisy or lends it an insider's authority, depending on your point of view.

The unnamed studio's head of production Bobby Gould is so new to the job that the décor in his office only stretches to a mismatch of paint samples splashed on the wall. He's got a temporary secretary who, though pretty, can't figure out how the switchboard works and an urgent need to impress the studio boss.

His minion Charlie Fox, who has toiled away in Gould's shadow for 11 years, seems to deliver the solution to the latter in the form of a 24-hour option on a surefire hit starring Hollywood's leading action hero. All is tawdry business as usual until, in an attempt to win a bet to bed her, Gould is the one seduced by the temp Karen, who thinks the film he should really be making is a worthy art-house flick about the end of the world.

Under Peter Gill's direction, the three-act structure serves this able cast well, allowing an act a piece in which each can exert their character's strengths. Mark Strong's Gould is king of the castle in Act 1, flexing his muscle with a cocky confidence that makes his later vulnerability all the more touching and watchable. In Act 2, Kimberley Williams' Karen breaks out of her shell of apparent naivete, bubbling over with misguided earnestness to wonderful comic effect.

And the finale belongs to Patrick Marber's Charlie. Better known as a playwright and director (think Closer), Marber proves here that he can walk the walk as well as talk the talk. He doesn't exude the same on-stage ease as the other two, but his stooped, 'little man' edginess proves an advantage as Charlie metamorphoses from the subservient lackey into the bitter and violet second-runner who refuses to be knocked back yet again.

There's only one jarring note in this production and it's pretty major: Mamet's moral dilemma is a complete non-starter. The proposed art-house project - based on a novel entitled 'Radiation and the Half-life of Society' - is so patently awful that no one in their right mind should ever consider reading it, let alone making it into a feature film. Thank god Hollywood's got some sense.

Terri Paddock