There has been a huge amount of what I can only call noise in both the popular and trade press about whether ‘ravaged’ ‘former child star’ Lindsay Lohan could pull off her stage debut in Speed-the-Plow or even prove sufficiently reliable to turn up to the theatre eight times a week since she’d clearly be staggering out of Chiltern Firehouse or Chinawhite in the small hours after every performance.

It seemed as though some commentators wouldn’t really be happy unless she were found on press night in a Northumberland Avenue gutter with a needle in her arm, and tickets might sell better if the producers displayed her naked in a glass case and instead of ice-creams the ushers sold something rotted with which punters could pelt her. Fruit, vegetables, the flesh of a first-born, it wouldn’t matter.

Having never been exposed to her Disney or later work – indeed, I wasn’t entirely sure whether she was actress or pop singer when the opportunity arose to see her on stage – I must be one of the few critics to approach this project with an open mind. I hadn’t even seen the earlier productions of the play in which, allegedly, Kevin Spacey and Madonna were separately excellent and terrible.

She isn’t in the first scenes setting up the plot of two Hollywood movie executives sparring over a new macho prison movie they might green-light, with sparky dialogue which reminded me of the scenes in Death of a Saleman where Willy Loman and his cohorts bluster about business, but also with the satirical edge of BBC’s excellent Episodes. The senior one barks intercom commands at what’s clearly a comically inefficient temporary secretary so that when Lohan arrives without the coffee they repeatedly ordered, you’re expecting Lucille Ball.

She looks as tall and as red-haired as Lucy, although her tresses cascade down her back and with the riven cheekbones she looks more model than secretary, but she’s completely audible and on top of the part. Rumours that she would play it like a finale of The Generation Game reading the lines off the props are not only greatly exaggerated but extraordinarily sexist because in fact it’s the West Wing’s Richard Schiff who’s unsteady in the lines, and it was for him that last Saturday’s matinee was held 30 minutes so an understudy could be saddled up. He was announced as sick, but had also been tweeting that he’d stayed up late to watch a baseball game. Makes Lohan look quite professional.

She must be a delight to act with because she looks directly at the other characters when addressing them. Not only does this add a great deal of authenticity to her interpretation of the purposeful and possibly wily Karen, it resists both the theatrical convention of ‘cheating’ one’s face slightly more to the audience than real conversation demands, or any starry vanity which might be tempted to check out the Stalls.

In the ‘soggy middle’ of the play, Lohan’s character is required to expound and promote the ideas in a book which predicts microwaves are deliberately designed to bring about an environmental doomsday: in this production it’s unclear whether Mamet is presenting this as a complete and ridiculous spoof, on the lines of ‘Springtime for Hitler’ or if the audience is intended to consider it may actually have some merit.  If we’re meant to believe it may have a point, Lohan needs to be a touch more plausible in her readings of exerpts from it, because they do sound like gobbledygook.

A few faltering moments aside, Schiff is quite good as the senior movie mogul, his outward bluster and inner insecurities seeming drawn from Neil Simon, but it’s Nigel Lindsay a favourite actor who has batted for Middle England in countless theatrical productions right up to A Small Family Business recently at the National who steals the crown from both Lohan and Schiff in an outstanding performance. His is a masterclass in how this play should be done, and hopefully director Lindsay Posner can help Lohan and Schiff to raise their game to match him.

Given that the people who might follow Lindsay Lohan for either voyeurism or fandom may tend not to be those who’d splurge £60 on a David Mamet play, even if the print reviews are good it may not be a sellout. But on a discount, you’d have a very enjoyable evening.