11 November 2007

The 24 Hour Plays Celebrity Gala introduced by Kevin Spacey & hosted by Ronnie Corbett

I would not ordinarily describe much about the plot in this blog since such information is always readily available elsewhere. However, after seeing some new writing earlier in the year and regretting making such brief notes, I decided that this night may warrant a different approach.

Assuming that the format of these 24 Hour Plays is well understood by now, I should explain that during a brief film shown beforehand, we learned of props brought by the actors and one provided by the frozen food manufacturing sponsors, the inclusion of which in one of the plays would produce a further £ 1,200 to got to the charity.
I have copied the Old Vic notes about the format of the event if anyone is not familiar with it

Fighters by Moses and Nina Raine

Billy - Kwame Kwei-Armah
Patrick - Samuel West
Craig - Ralf Little
Amanda - Elizabeth McGovern

Directed by Josie Rourke

Now this is terrible of me. I don't remember much about the plot of this play. Such is the mind of a withering soul. I remember that I had a sneaking suspicion that Elizabeth McGovern was trying to do a cut-glass English accent which she never fully achieved and should not have attempted with no time allowance for a voice coach. I also remember that Kwame and to an even greater degree Sam were woefully under-used. Something about the play made it feel like Robert De Niro had turned up in an episode of Neighbours but I think I am being too cruel. I am waiting for my friend to remind me of the plot. How ridiculous that I cannot recall any detail of it. I recall that Ralf Little produced all of his props to much laughter. It was very funny - I do remember that but it was not tight and polished ..........and the plot was unmemorable, apparently

My memory has been jogged but I decided not to replace the comments above because this blog is about instant reactions. This is the plot summary as supplied by my dear friend.

Talented but insecure boxer tries to psych himself up for the fight. He is being cajoled by the assistant, bullied by the manager. The manager objects to the on-off girlfriend. Girlfriend shows up, tension mounts, the boxer wants to quit boxing because he doesn't like the pressure. With the backing of the girlfriend he finds the nerve to stand up to the manager. The boxer fires the manager and between the firing and the girlfriend, he finds his backbone and decides to fight. He goes out for the fight and we find out that the situation was a set up between the manager and the girlfriend, who are having an affair. The assistant is clueless throughout.

Sounds alright, doesn't it?

Two Stars

A Handbag by Amy Rosenthal

Jez - Stephen Mangan
Zoe - Juliet Rylance
Victor - Donald Sumpter
Marilyn - Gemma Jones

Directed by Wilson Milam

Zoe's bag is stolen but Victor, the husband of the thief, brings his wife, Marilyn to justice. Zoe and her husband, Jez invite Victor and Marilyn to their home to discuss the theft. The bag has already been returned presumably via the police. This seemed like some cathartic act straight out of the plot of The Pain and the Itch.

The play starts with witty banter between Jez and Zoe as they prepare to receive their guests. Upon their arrival it is clear that Victor is annoyed with his wife's strange behavior and it transpires that this is an isolated incident. Marilyn sits in a daze but it is unclear whether this is with distress, denial or indeed peace. She even suggests it was fate they should meet and after years of drudgery she found the contents of the bag liberating and uplifting, filling her with optimism. Witty and touching with taught performances. What more can you ask for?

Four Stars

An Act of Love by Aschlin Ditta

Drew - Tom Hollander
Louise - Sharon Small
Catherine - Doon Mackichan
Ben - Obi Abili

Directed by Edward Dick

The star of the evening in my opinion. It hit the ground running and didn't lose pace at any point.

A couple let themselves into a flat and shout out for the owner who is finishing in the bathroom. Drew is very uneasy about the task ahead - going to the clinic for a wank so that the bathroom dwelling sister of his wife, Louise can have his child by the turkey basting method, thereby negating the need for the intervention of a male partner. After some awkward preamble Louise confides that her sister Catherine is not at all keen on the artificial method of conception so they (the two sisters) have decided it should be done 'naturally'. Drew was not a party to this decision. The banter is sharp and immaculately delivered.

Catherine emerges with the obvious intention of performing said natural act immediately. Louise departs for the kitchen and Drew strips down to his y-fronts and a perfectly judged detached petting ensues. The front door opens and the lodger, Ben walks in. More silly exchanges with the added contrivance of a packet of McCain Oven Chips being introduced into the script which he takes off to the kitchen to cook.

Louise returned from the kitchen when she heard Ben talking and is now left with her husband and sister in a state of undress and decides that she would feel better about the entire arrangement if she could watch them. This is not greeted with the greatest of enthusiasm but the curtain falls as the task resumes.

The joy for this writer was knowing the cast in advance and totally using Tom Hollander's talents to the greatest advantage. We saw the tech rehearsal for this and I must say Obi gave a better performance then but all in all this was wonderfully timed and a total hoot.

Six Stars

Get Tested by Laura Wade

Bob - Kevin Spacey
Claudia - Haydn Gwynne
Abby - Katherine Parkinson
Daniel - Tobias Menzies

Directed by Matt WIlde

Bob and Abby, an affluent but disparate couple are joined by a self-assured interloper, Claudia. It is clear that Bob has decided their marriage should not be a sexually exclusive union but does not wish to digress with any deceit to his wife.

A very practical arrangement is made with Claudia, to the extent that all three of them gain written proof they have been tested for the various STDs. Abby is clearly not quite as comfortable with this new stage in her marriage but becomes significantly more interested in the prospect when Claudia's friend Daniel enters to join the fun. Bob's mood turns on a sixpence and even the production of Daniel's test certificate does not placate him. Bob's protestations are universally taunted until he drags Abby away from the house, leaving just long enough for her to mouth a big 'thank you' to Claudia as she leaves.

I think this gets my 5 out of six rating for the evening. The performances were wonderful and once again, I suspect the writer had the individual actors in mind. Perfect timing and everyone clearly enjoyed themselves.

Five Stars

Dinner - Simon Vinnicombe

Susan - Sharon Maughan
Paul - Rob Brydon
Vera - Fiona Shaw
Mike - Simon Woods

Directed by Tim Roseman

Two couples meet for diner and are clearly on blind dates from a lonely heart's contact. I don't believe we are supposed to think they are the same restaurant at this point. We flit from one couple back to the other over various time-lines, both trying to make the best of the liaison and eventually agreeing to make a more permanent partnership.

Various rifts form in the relationships and cruel truths are finally discussed. We see the same arc of the relationship commence as the couples swap over.

I feel as though I may have missed or forgotten something here. I liked the little vignettes and the cast were wonderful but other than demonstrating the desperate nature of some people's desire for companionship and the inevitable repetition or our mistakes, I think there was more to this than I grasped or remembered. The enjoyable little sketches did not adhere well enough to make a satisfying play.

Three Stars

Tears by Bryony Lavery

Marilyn - Sian Thomas
Maria - Natasha Little
Moira - Nancy Carroll
Maura - Ronnie Ancona
Marta - Maureen Lipman

Directed by Tamara Harvey

So sad to end on the weakest piece. A bunch of silly women turning up to an adulterer's wake. They all have their points to make and they all have blue carrier bags containing reminders of their late lover. A few clunky laughs but a dreadful waste of a talented cast, in my opinion. Bad luck all around.

One Star

I cannot conclude my notes of the auditorium proceedings without mention of the talents of the heavily jet-lagged Mr Spacey as he introduced the evening. He really does have a confidence and charisma that both excites and puts at ease.

Ronnie Corbett was wonderful. He was unrelenting in his jokes around his diminutive stature and I only wish I could remember some of them.

Any harsh criticism of the work here is not meant to in any way diminish the wonderful evening enjoyed by all. A monumental achievement and that a couple of these tiny productions were virtually flawless is a testament to the greatness of the entire endeavor.

in other parts of the building we were treated to a brief look in at a tech rehearsal and endless champagne in the Pit Bar with a gracious and personal thank you from Mr Spacey. We were efficiently hauled away to the Plaza on the River for more champagne, raffles and generous entertainment during the 25th Hour Gala Night Party.

I fear that after years of resisting, I am now addicted and will need to find the means to attend next year.

I normally note celebrities in the audience but that would be a fools errand on this occasion. I will just say that Mrs Mangan sat in the row behind us and if I see Adrian Lukis at the theatre any more times, he will think I am on the staff. Esther Hall was there to support her beau but Bo was sadly not there to support his wife or current co-star. Rebecca Hall seemed to be enjoying the company of other thespians. The remarkable young Mark Field, whose performance in Vincent River will surely secure his future, was also in the front row and had benefited from the object of this charity.