The 24 Hour Plays – Old Vic New Voices (Old Vic)

I’m a big fan of new theatre – and it doesn’t come much newer than taking your seat in The Old Vic to watch six 10-minute plays that have been cast, written and rehearsed in the previous 24 hours.  Old Vic New Voices has been running this project every year since October 2005; this year the panel had to whittle down 2,500 applicants to just 21 actors, 6 writers, 6 directors and 6 producers.On Saturday evening, everyone piles into the rehearsal studio to introduce themselves, then the actors and directors are sent off to get a good night’s sleep (they’ll need it), but the writers must divvy up the actors between themselves and they have until 6am to write a 10-minute play.  At 7am the directors choose the script they want and rehearsals start in earnest; producers beg, borrow and steal whatever is required, knowing that all 6 plays will be performed for one night only to an audience of family, friends and theatre lovers at 7.30pm.

There is a frisson of excitement as you walk into the auditorium, not quite sure of what to expect; the stunning set of resident play Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen provides a very gentile 19th Century backdrop for this evening’s proceedings – would the set influence the writers, or would they choose to ignore it?

Trapp is the first offering of the night, featuring a couple who’ve had trouble conceiving and instead of IVF, have decided a guided tour of the set of The Sound of Music should help nature take its course – but her husband (a vocal dead ringer for Jack Davenport) painfully points out that her desperation for a child has driven them apart. Next up, it’s Activate; four political revolutionaries are holed up in a stately home planning their next stunt, but Brie, the posh girl of the group, has purchased a gun on the internet and this threatens to give away their identities and their location to the authorities.  Some great characterisation as the class barrier proves that money cannot buy intelligence.

Having seen the 24 Hour Plays before, there’s always one ‘difficult’ piece and The Natives was it – a young unemployed man accuses the local Polish community of killing and eating the swans.  The story was not aided by the heart-in-mouth moment where he completely forgot his lines and walked off stage – there was a pained silence for a very long few seconds, but he returned and carried on, earning him a thundering round of applause.  The piece was redeemed at the end by a great monologue by the girl playing the Polish shopkeeper.

After the interval, we picked up again with Long Shore Drift – one girl over 3 decades and the conversations she has standing at the end of Brighton Pier.  The first with a teenage boy on a school trip who has been throwing oranges into the sea to study long shore drift, second with her best friend and thirdly with her husband – she is concerned that she is repeating the same mistakes her mother made, while her husband draws a parallel with the oranges experiment and insists that you can never end up back exactly where you started – a very subtle piece of writing.

Cinderland takes us post-apocalypse to a world ravaged with a highly contagious disease – 3 young men are hiding in a stately home.  In walks an attractive girl whose father is responsible for culling off the last few people with the disease to save the rest of the population – she insists she can get them to safety further north.  A wonderfully ambiguous piece which deals with how much you can really trust someone.

There is no shortage of laughs in the final piece, Friends with Benefits – the government are cracking down on child benefit payments.  Ms Jones has the difficult task of breaking the news to Deborah who, with her sprawling mansion, hot air balloon and observatory does not seem to be short of money, but insists that without these payments, she and her precious little boy (aged 30) will be left destitute.  The writing is a little contrived in places, but great fun to watch.

Now you will have missed this (unless you were also there), but if the concept appeals to you, then you may like to see ‘The Twenty Four Hour Musicals Celebrity Gala’ on December 9, 2012 also at The Old Vic – further details can be found here: http://www.oldvictheatre.com/the-24-hour-musicals

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