By David Mamet. Lyric Studio, Hammersmith, London. 2-28 Feb. 1998
Remarkably, Aaron Mullen's Lakeboat is the play's British premiere. It is not easy to explain why it has taken so long for one of Mamet's earliest works to be produced in the U.K.; perhaps potential producers have until now been deterred by its politically incorrect dinosaurs. Lakeboat received very positive reviews in the press, and though critics praised every aspect of the production, its success was primarily due to its fidelity to Mamet's text, the only noticeable alteration lying in the suggested latent homosexuality in an exchange between Stan and the young Dale.
The set, which makes excellent use of the confined space offered by the studio theatre, is taken directly from Mamet's suggestions for the play and is truly a 'construction of a Lakeboat.' Its only drawback is the fact that it does not successfully convey an idea of motion, and this undermines the implicit 'journey' of the play. The production makes no use of sound effects, which may have remedied this anomaly. It is all too easy to forget that the play is set aboard the moving vessel which provides a necessary counterpoint to the on-stage stasis of the characters' lives.
The distinction made between Skippy and Collins and the rest of the crew is highlighted not only by their pristine white uniforms, but by the design of the bridge: a small window covered in white gauze and lit from below. As well as elevating and separating the First and Second, the design lends a televisual quality to exchanges between these characters. Perhaps this design was inspired by the largest irony in the play, Collins' own comment on the banality of a scene that people wouldn't even cross the hall to watch if their TV was broken. The rest of the action takes place below this bridge in the grimy bowels of the lakeboat. The rest of the cast is suitably attired in grease and dirt except for Dale, Mamet's own Billy Budd, who thereby appears suitably anachronistic.
The usual downfall in a British production of an American play is that the actors struggle with the accents. Mullen has managed to assemble a cast, some of whom are native Americans, who do justice to Mamet's use of American demotic and deliver the lines with the necessary rapidity. Indeed, if anything the lines are spoken too quickly, with some of the humour lost on the audience. The play's running time is just over an hour, and though it would be wrong to labour the text, parts of the dialogue are lost through a combination of excessive speed and unfavourable acoustics. But these are minor complaints in an otherwise faithful production of Mamet's play.
In a recent television interview with Sir Jeremy Isaacs on BBC television, Mamet reiterated his definition of a bad director as someone unable to communicate what he wants to the cast. Mamet appears to apply this belief to his playwriting, the success of the play resulting from the simplicity of the text; and Mullen's Lakeboat, having stuck so closely to what Mamet wrote, was never likely to sink.
DERRY K. WILKINSON
University of Wales, Bangor