First trip to the Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester is a Beautiful Thing
Reasons To Be Pretty (and to shoot characters)

Old Vic 24-hour plays - Sex guides, Star Wars and a dog on stage

IMGP3736I'm writing this on barely five hours sleep (damn body clock doesn't understand late night means late sleep) although I imagine I'm in better shape than those who actually wrote, produced, performed and partied hard late into night after the annual Old Vic fund raiser, the 24-hour plays.

For those who have never been or are unfamiliar and I counted myself as being one of them until last night, what happens is this. After Saturday evening's performance at the Old Vic, a group of volunteer writers, directors and actors meet for the first time.

The actors have to come armed with a prop which goes into a pool. Last night's included a plastic heron, spider-man costume, a button that said 'that was easy' when pressed and someones pet dog. A real dog. 

The six writers are then ferried off to a hotel where they fight over choose the actors they want before cracking on with writing a 10 minute play. At 8am with their freshly composed scripts are prized out of their hands and it's the directors turn to choose which script they want to work with.

Then the actors arrive and the day is spent producing and rehearsing ready for curtain up in front of a paying audience at 7.30pm. Each of the six plays has only 20 minutes tech time on stage. And, just to make things more complicated, they have to work around and within the restrictions imposed by the existing set, for the current production at the Old Vic, in this case The Playboy of the Western World.

IMGP3739The evening's host, Rob Brydon, then kicks off proceedings introducing a video by Kevin Spacey who would normally attend but is performing Richard III (or 'Dick Shit' as he calls it) in China. Incidentally Spacey was looking very trim and commented on how much weight he's lost since 'riding a tornado' for a 100 or so performances. 

It's followed by a short film shot during the day documenting the process - there was a great moment when, at 2am,  playwright Jack Thorne turns his laptop to the camera and shows what he's come up with so far, the words: A living room. 

But onto the plays themselves. According to @polyg who's on her fifth or sixth 24-hour plays, the quality was high this year. I have nothing to judge them against except to say they were very good and accomplished considering how much time had gone into them. And hats off to the them, there was only one really obvious line cock up and a one subtle moving of prop to the right location. 

IMGP3740Here's a quick run down (click on the image to see a bigger version of the full programme):

Genie's Voices - Tanika Gupta

This was a clever piece about playwright (Gina McKee), who's just finished a script, fighting with her muses (Anthony Head, Josette Simon & Charlie Cox) who all have their own ideas about what she should have written about. The muses manage to convince her that what she is written will get rubbished by the critics and she must rewrite using their ideas.

Charlie Cox is sporting a rather impressive beard at the moment which upstaged everyone else or maybe that is just me?

Frostbite - Amy Rosenthal

Friends meet up after a long time. One couple (Jane Asher & David Horovitch) are divorced and are barely talking to each other and the other (Indira Varma & Julian Sands) are concerned about it. They have a dog, Molly, and want to make sure their warring friends will fulfil their godparents duty and look after her should anything happen to them. (Molly stole it naturally)

Your Guide to Giving Birth With Confidence - Nick Payne

Couple (Freddie Fox & Nancy Carroll) find themselves at a remote B&B with Carroll going in labour. Fortunately another couple (Mathew Horne & Nina Sosanya) are guests and Mathew, dressed in the rather revealing spider-man outfit, worked in a hospital in Vietnam during his gap year so offers to help with the labour.

Aside from the spider-man outfit there was great use of the 'that was easy' button. And the heron made it's first of many appearances, in this case under the arm of spider-man, naturally.

Honk Honk You Donky Donk - Jack Thorne

Think this was my favourite. Sanjeev Bhaskar is introducing a guide to 'sweet love making' with Mackenzie Crook and Katherine Parkinson playing a frosty couple who are supposed to be demonstrating. Thrown into the mix, Bhaskar is getting exacerbated with the lack of professionalism of all concerned - 'I have a BAFTA' - and starts getting all prima dona-ish.

Bonus points for incorporating stage fighting - KP beating up MC - and a cameo by a white dressing gown wearing Anthony Head.

Greedo Doesn't Shoot First - Roy Williams

This one started with a kidnapping being discussed between Rachael Stirling, Robert Glenister and Brendan Coyle in which Rachael is being reprimanded for too forceful use of a brick to the head of their victim. It turns out that the victim is George Lucas and the group are hardcore Star Wars fans who think Lucas has got out of control. Sophia Myles plays Glenister's wife and a Star Trek fan, sent in to try and talk them into releasing Lucas.

Never thought I'd see Downton's Brendan Coyle wearing a Star Wars T-Shirt. Also really liked this one even though most of the Star Wars and Star Trek references went straight over my head. Hard core fans of the former will no doubt get the reference in the title.

This Time - James Graham

The first musical at the 24-hour plays, I believe, by Graham who claims, in the programme notes, to be tone deaf. It's about two very different sisters (Janie Dee and Ruthie Henshall). The former is getting over a nervous breakdown and the latter isn't very delicate about discussing it, turning up with a new man on her arm (Obi Abili). Janie's daughter (Lily Cole) feels suffocated by her mother illness and forms a bond with Obi while the sisters are eventually reconciled.

It's a musical, so my usual prejudices apply but I can, nonetheless, appreciate the incredible accomplishment of pulling it together in such a short time. Ruthie Henshall's voice is amazing and Lily Cole isn't a bad singer either. 

The after party

And so that was that, it was time to head off to the after show party in a convoy of coaches over the river to the flash Corinthia Hotel. Highlights from the party include: Brendan Coyle not taking off his wax jacket all evening, Indira Varma not taking her hat off all night, Poly trying to dodge Tamzin Merchant (there to support beau Freddie Fox no doubt) in that both step to the right, both step to the left way, Julian Sands dancing to Back in Black and Rachael Stirling tearing up the dance floor.

Charlie Cox was a no-show at the party unless he was hiding somewhere which was naturally disappointing as I wanted to get a closer look of the beard. 

Overall it was a really great evening, an atmosphere unlike any other you'll experience at the theatre and Rob Brydon is very funny and very good at impressions but now I need to have a little lie down.