Take the works of one of the greatest US crime writers, add an original score from an award-winning composer and the acting talent of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company and you should be in for a good night's entertainment.

Unfortunately, this was a production that lived down to its billing. First off, the audience didn't get what it said on the tin, and instead of James Ellroy's hard-boiled noir, the show featured the spoken words of the playwright Sam Shepard.

Ellroy apparently suffered a stroke and couldn't complete the work at hand, but it is odd that this wasn't made clear amid the publicity the show generated.

The veteran actor John Mahoney, best known for playing Martin Crane in Frasier, tried to compensate for the unexpected change by telling us we were privileged to get a chance to see a classic show from the Steppenwolf repertoire, one that had American audiences "clamouring for its return".

But the merit of what was on offer was for the audience to decide, and some voted with their feet. They had been treated to no more than a hotchpotch of half-baked ideas that provided only spasmodic entertainment.

Lacking pep, the evening felt more like the staging of an audiobook than it did of a flagship production. The laid-back finesse of T-Bone Burnett's guitar playing managed to raise the emotional temperature, though he failed to strike up a rapport with the audience. The passages chosen were a good reflection of Shepard's multi-layered oeuvre, however, and were well read by Mahoney and Martha Lavey.

But there was little synergy between the musician and the actors, and Burnett's songs felt more like a separate concert than a complement to the readings.