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The 24 Hour Plays: Old Vic New Voices


Old Vic
(2009)

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An evening at the Old Vic, under the banner of the theatre's outreach programme, Old Vic New Voices, to see this incredibly varied programme proves that Britain can look forward to welcoming a great crop of talent in the performing arts, starting very soon.

The concept sounds like the outcome of a drunken bet. Put together 7 each of producers, directors and playwrights with 7 x 5 acting teams, everyone 25 or under, at 9pm (or possibly 10pm depending upon which version one believes) on a Saturday. All seems set for a binge of epic proportions, if the money holds out.

However, that is not Kevin Spacey's idea. No: he expects them to have 7 fully-formed 15- minute plays ready for performance to 1100 people at a packed Old Vic by 7.30 the following evening.

If there was a bet involved, the teams all came through, with some great plays and acting that, at its best, was far beyond the merely promising.

The evening was compered by actor Jason Isaacs and comedian Russell Kane, who somehow spent almost as long on stage as the real performers, unnecessarily dragging the evening out to almost 3¼ hours.

The Prize by Laura Neal

The evening opened in style with a spoof on a heist movie, directed by Elizabeth Newman, in which two bungling kidnappers played by Ellie Paskell and Nari Blair-Mangat miss out on their man, getting a shrub instead.

It is their shady boss's girl (Annemarie Gaillard) who predicts fireworks and boy, do they arrive, in the shape of Ian Keir Attard playing Gary, the wannabe Capability Brown of West Wiltshire. Keir Attard is already a consummate comic actor and finds a good foil in Nick Blakeley playing the role of his plant-loving victim.

Feeding the Birds by Mwewa Sumbwanyambe

This play compares student onion pickers with the "illegals" who have to take the job seriously. The bittersweet comedy centres on a limping farmer (Max Saunders-Singer) and student memorialising his father (Max Krupke).

This is Not the End by Ella Hickson

Natalie Ibu ensures that Ella Hickson's sex comedy is the evening's highlight, thanks to impeccable timing by the whole of her universally talented cast, who look as well rehearsed as those who have had the more normal 4-6 weeks.

The subject is the date from hell as pretty Mia (Lucy Evans) meets her new boyfriend Tom's pals. This trio of rugger types had been the self-proclaimed Three Musketeers of drunken foul antics.

Sam Marks as Tom is joined by the double act of Gary Trainor and James Baldwin who do not hold back on the tasteless but extremely funny jokes. Nor do they spare Mia with their tales of Tom's past conquests.

If this is bad enough, Abigail Andjel weighs in as Tom's bitter old flame Lisa, who, once she's had a few too many, does not hold back on the hilarious invective.

If Ella Hickson is minded to, there are the seeds of a full scale play or even TV series waiting to be nurtured here. She and her collaborators are set for great things. This could be the launch pad for a number of them to head for the stars.

Mother's Ruin by Sarah Solemani

Sarah Solemani has more serious ambitions in that she uses her 15 minutes to show us a slice of life drama rather than a pure comedy (although Mother's Ruin is leavened with humour). The play is set around 100 yards from the theatre in an underlit, oversized subway.

Rebecca Whitehead sets the scene in an entertaining monologue about British women's close relationship with booze. This is then exemplified by Yuppie Helen Millar, who certainly knows how to behave badly.

Her exuberance is juxtaposed with the plight of Bryony Hannah, sleeping rough and using drink to dull the pain of unfulfilled ambitions.

Under director Alexander Summers the serious issue of British society's dichotomy of wealth distribution is put under the microscope with great skill. Once again, this piece should be developed., as some of the characters and ideas would make a fine, full length drama for a new writing theatre.

Fantasia by Tim Cowbury

Director Alice Lacey does a wonderful job of showcasing her cast, as well as getting more laughs than seemed possible from a script that ostensibly seems pretty serious.

Fantasia explores the experience of Nathan (Edward Rice) after a courtroom bombing. His story is narrated by four bystanders in different but complementary styles.

The ensemble show off the play to great effect, pulling together loose ends and a writing style that is deliberately at least a little obscure.

While Sarah Olaleye shows most humanity as Debbie, Oliver Hawes threatens to steal the show playing James. Hawes is ridiculously loud and brash but is so funny that this ceases to matter and there can be little doubt that a career as a stand-up or comic actor beckons, unless he has other aspirations.

I Can't Even Look in Your Eyes Without Shaking by Cesar Abella

Cesar Abella chooses to show a young audience how hard it is to find a mate. Natalie Best's Beth offers a hymn to unrequited love but discovers that fulfilment requires more than a drunkenly willing man.

Two lads also struggle to pull, Joshua McCord's dense Owen causing real anguish to Fi, a girl who loves him but cannot say so, sympathetically played by Vanessa Kirby. The other pair seem destined for a marriage made far, far from heaven.

These Memories Must Go by Kieran Lynn

The final play observes five tediously unpleasant siblings at the graveside of their dead parents. They bicker rather than remember, as each vies to achieve ascendancy for their own limited talent.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher