Vince Vaughn was plotting to kill his God-fearing mother, Alicia Witt was swearing like a Marine, Patricia Hodge was snorting coke, and Tom Hollander was telling — no, yelling — that he had a beautiful penis. No, I’m not talking about the champagne party for this year’s 24-Hour Plays at the Old Vic on Oct. 8. All that dissolute behavior was in the six 10-minute plays themselves, from Bryony Lavery, April de Angelis, Sally Wainwright, Colin Teevan, Simon Farquhar and Snoo Wilson.
Even before the casts began strutting their stuff, celebs were out in force. On his night off from slugging it out with the mesmerizing Eve Best in Howard Davies‘ “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” Kevin Spacey was on the set introducing a packed house to his address book: Bill Clinton, Christopher Walken, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart. OK, so they were all impersonations courtesy of Spacey, but you get the point.
Actors are all too often described as being brave — usually when someone startlingly beautiful dares to put on a bad wig and a few extra pounds to appear, gasp, unattractive — but it takes guts to learn, rehearse and perform a brand-new script in public in 12 hours. And if not every script wrenched after seven hours from the writers’ sweaty handswas an unassailable masterpiece, they did provide cherishable moments, from Greta Scacchi stomping around in Wellington boots bemoaning six years without sex to Susannah York slumming it as a cockney loudmouth.
Entertainment aside, the event is a fund-raiser for Old Vic/New Voices, the talent development program produced by Kate Pakenham. This year’s record-breaking total of £125,000 ($232,000) will fund everything from a large-scale community production about the Battle of the Somme at the theater’s neighboring Imperial War Museum to the continuance of Pakenham’s flourishing U.S./U.K. playwright exchange. So far, that program has given U.S. exposure to writers including Richard Bean, Debbie Tucker Green and Michael Wynne, and a U.K. profile to David Grimm, Lynn Nottage and Sarah Ruhl.
The producers of New York’s 24-Hour Plays who attended were certainly impressed. Participating helmer Josie Rourke, whose production of David Mamet‘s “The Cryptogram” is about to open at the Donmar Warehouse with Kim Cattrall, was invited to direct one of the plays in the Gotham version on Oct. 23. The BBC’s new star writer-comedienne Catherine Tate, who acted in last year’s event and was this year’s host, also has been invited to take a role in the Gotham version.
‘Britain’s’ tour guide
“Little Britain” creators, Matt Lucas and David Walliams have just seen their show nominated for an international Emmy. But instead of basking in the glow of anticipation, they’re hurtling around the country in a stage version of the show. After touring for the past year, the show is now playing a month in London, where every seat was sold as soon as it was announced. And these guys are doing rock star dates, with auditoriums ranging from 2,000 to 10,000 seats.
Writer-lyricist Jeremy Sams was brought in to transfer them from screen to stage. “My job was to tie it together in the best order,” he says. “It’s all about logistics. They have to keep going off to change wigs, clothes, gender. Everything is laced together with linking video sequences. One minute we’re in a pub, the next the screen takes us screaming over Britain to land at a castle, at which point the next character walks on.”
Unexpectedly for a show up to its neck in gloriously bad taste — with fake vomit-simulators and Walliams’ Sebastian completely stripping to cheer up his prime minister (played by Anthony Head) — Sams loves its innocence.
“Yes, but there’s no swearing,” Sams says.”A lot of kids go and they just wouldn’t get the really lewd stuff. There’s a lot of nostalgia to it all. It’s reminiscent of classic English comedians like Dick Emery, Benny Hill or the Two Ronnies, but in a very, very postmodern version.”