Only two writers currently have more than one show running in London's commercial West End: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kenneth Lonergan. The latter's Lobby Hero rounds off this year's "American Imports" season at the Donmar Warehouse just as his teen period piece This Is Our Youth has become a slow-burning success at the Garrick.
Lobby Hero is the better piece of writing, as its incisive observations and occasionally Mametesque dialogue are augmented by both moral and narrative point. Jeff, a twentysomething ex-naval serviceman struggling to stabilise his life in a job as a New York apartment block's night security guard (not a doorman, he repeatedly protests), is confronted with a dilemma: does he risk his own future by selling out the false murder alibi provided by his respected captain for the latter's brother? His motive for doing so would be to free the female rookie cop on whom he has a crush from her corrupt, hypocritical partner.
Both the captain and the rookie face their own similar choices for their own motives, but all strands come together in Jeff, portrayed by the ever-watchable David Tennant as if Private Pike had been written by Mamet and played by a young Martin Sheen: all edgy wisecracks and self-deprecating sarcasm, but with an underlying feeling that here is an overgrown boy adrift in the world. Gary Macdonald as guard captain William is a tragic hero slightly dislocated in a play that is not a tragedy: an upright, noble man with a single, fatal flaw, his depth of principle and conscience.
Dominic Rowan is maybe ten years too young to give two-faced cop Bill the self-satisfied gravitas written into the character (this is a man who, when Jeff asks him to sign in by jocularly requesting his "autograph", takes it literally), so turns his natural English ponderousness as an actor to his advantage; the manner works far better than Rowan's vaguely East Coast American accent. Charlotte Randle as probationary police officer Dawn makes up in lip what she lacks in physical stature, nicely combining toughness and (no pun intended) insecurity.
The direction by Mark Brokaw (also responsible for the play's New York première) keeps the visual and physical business simple, and mirrors Lonergan's writing in allowing the events and concerns to arise naturally from the characters, so that the protagonists imbue the goings-on with a natural amount of thoughtfulness. The web of sex, power (both principled and naked) and honesty is at once entertaining as light comedy and gripping as a moral maze.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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