The Priory (Royal Court Theatre 25/11/09) 26 November 2009

The Priory - Written by Michael Wynne (People are Friendy at the Royal Court and and co-writer of the film My Summer of Love), Directed by Jeremy Herrin (Tusk Tusk, The Vertical Hour and That Face - all Royal Court)

I thought I'd be checking into an evening of self-revelation and exploration with a group of thirty somethings spurred on by what by many consider to be one of the emotional stressful nights of the year - New Years Eve. I must have checked into the wrong building because I ended up stranded in limp sitcom land. Was it a matter of intent not living up to execution or simply the fact that the description oversold the production? Either way, I was disappointed. Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate it or have a miseable time, I just found it odd to be witnessing something with so little depth or originality at the Royal Court.

I suppose it comes down to what you expect to get out of a theatre performance. Irrespective of the production there will always be the shared experience between actor and audience as well as audience member and audience member. That's a given. Going deeper, there's the play's story and characters to hook and grab you then resonate in some way. Had I been watching this production in say, 1975, when there really wasn't that much on TV then this would have been a welcome diversion, urging me to consider how the passing of time and getting older affects everyone. However, we are in 2009, this sort of story has been done many times over and I expect to discover something new and interesting. At the very least, some good comedy.

Basic story - woman had previously rented The Priory for a getaway her boyfirend prior to breaking up with him. After the breakup she decides to invite a few close friends to see in the New Year. Things don't go as expected when each friend brings a partner the evening gets thrown out of whack. This is an amiable set up but wat we are left with are pretty stock characters and situations. There's the gay one (Joseph Millson - Judgement Day at the Almeida, Every Good Boy Deserves a Favour and Pillars of the Community - both National Theatre) , the married one (Rupert Penry-Jones - TV's Spooks) with the wife (Rachael Stirling - A Woman of No Importance - Haymarket London and TV's Tipping the Velvet) who only can talk about her kids and the one who has finally got his life together (Alistair MacKenzie - TV's Monarch of the Glen) - or has he? - and the host - the getting older single female (Jessica Hynes - TV's Spaced).

There's not much else I can say about this, the dialogue tends to go on and on without purpose (I tuned out during one exchange and I was in the first row). The comedy is pretty run of the mill and the performances competent but nothing to write home about. The play has many farcical elements but was directed in such a straightforward manner that the elements didn't have the punch they should have. I would say the whole production wasn't sure of what it was supposed to be - farce? Drama? Tragedy? Social observation? It had elements of each but ultimately they all cancelled out the other.To sum it up, it doesn't present or explore anything that the majority of theatregoers haven't seen done much better on stage, on tv or in film. I guess I ask alot from my trips to the theatre and this fell short.

On a positive note - there is a storyline involving the gay one and someone he met online that is really interesting. It's the one aspect of the play that rises above the mundane and shows real emotion and pathos. If only the rest of the play followed that cue.

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Coming in December - Cock at the Royal Court, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Novello and Red at the Donmar.

The Twenty Four Hour Plays Celebrity Gala 2009 (Part 2- The Experience) (The Old Vic Theatre 1/11/09 ) 2 November 2009

It was expensive - it was a fundraiser after all, but utilising some Theatre Tokens the cost came down from £75 to £45. This would be an average price for an excellent to good stalls seat but for this gala I was up in the Lillian Baylis Circle - level three, aka as far up top as you could go - but it was a good cause and there were good people involved. (If I remember correctly - top price for stalls was £750. The information is gne offline no so I can't check).

One thing about these sort of events is that unless you have paid a whopping huge price for your seat you're never really sure how you should dress - would jeans be ok or would you stand out as the only person not dressed up for the occasion? I went half way and I'm glad I did. When I approached the Old Vic I was passing people in tuxes and party dresses. When I arrived in the foyer (packed) there was a mix of suits, casual and tuxes. Spotted - Hardeep Singh Kohli.

I had to climb to the top level and to do that you have to pass though level two which funnily enough seemed to be the dressiest of them all. Level three had a definite mix of those who figured there were just there to see the performances so no dressing up needed and those who figured therey were at a gala so dressing up was important. All in all, I felt comfortable. Important point as I was on my own.

All the performances took place on the bare set of Inherit the Wind which is currently playing at the Old Vic. With it's blonde wood floor and walls the set resembled a school gymnasium especially with the portable movie screen set up near the back. I was in the second row about five seats in from the aisle and the view was excellent. In my head I always imagine the top level at the Old Vic being miles away from the stage but it's actually alright. As we waited for the event to start we were treated to some music - B52's Love Shack, Guns and Roses Sweet Child O' Mine and Salt n Peppers Push It were the one's I remember. Tells you the age of the people at the controls.

As the auditorium filled I noticed quite a few empty places in the top section. I thought that strange seeing that there was a House Full sign posted out front. Graham Noton came on (very funny) and introduced the video after explaning the process from the previous 20 odd hours (you can see it here). Then one by one he introduced the plays, the writers and performers. Spotted - Stephen Mangan and Kieran O'Brien seated close by on empty benches watching the first half.

1st up - I Should Have Never Agreed To This.

They utilised part of the resident set for this - a bed rolled out from the side. In it snuggled together were Elliot Cowan and Nigel Lindsay. They wake up not knowing how or what they did and wearing each others boxer shorts. That's all they wore. The scene switched back and forth between them and Producer - Romola Garai and Director - Haydn Gwynne who are panicked because the Writer - John Light is stuck trying to write his play for the evening. He is writing is the other scene with Cowan and Lindsay. Everyone was very good and it was enjoyable trying to figure out where the Writer would take his two characters and if he would finish in time. Prop used - pink toilet seat cover.

Next - Ouch.

This was hysterical. All four actors start out in a line on stage, each with a single spotlight on the. Clive Rowe who is well know for his magnificent singing voice started with what we thought would be a gospel number and ended up being Britney Spears Hit Me Baby One More Time. We find out that a man - David Haig - was in a rickshaw in Soho when it hit and ran over a pedestrian - Rafe Spall. Also involved was a taxi driver - Clive Rowe and another car, driven by Hattie Morahan. Clive Rowe's singing voice is used once again for a very funny moment when Rafe Spall is describing how his earphoes becam jammed in his head when he fell over. As they were attached to an ipod Shuffle, all the music became scrambled together. This is where Clive cam in as he bounced back and forth through various songs to illustrate the problem.

The scene switches to Rafe Spalls hospital room where one by one those involved in the crahdcome to visit him at his bedside. Rafe's character is a seemingly naive eastender who ends up getting various things from each that visit him until the last - the woman driver who happens to also be an investigative reporter - has discovered that Rafe's character has done this before and therefore is a con. It doesn't sound especially funny in print but the performances (especially Rafe Spall) made this one an absolute joy. I think the prop was a hat like one would get when visiting the seaside on holiday.

Last one before the interval - Stop Blaming, Start Loving

Good idea but didn't come of especially well. I think it could have been funnier than it was. A lesbian couple - Lorraine Burroughs and Helen McCrory wait for the arrival of a therapist to help them through their rocky relationship. The therapist arrives in the form of Dominic West - who is a brash, sloppy and not very good therapist. He asks both banal and offensive questions, takes them through a play acting session and proves to be so uneffective the women leave. Prop used - a head massager.

Interval - I went downstairs but felt I couldn't stay very long because of the crush of people trying to go in all sorts of directions, looking for drinks or just stopping in their tracks. I ended up back at my seat. Spotted - Damien Lewis and director Jamie Lloyd. Dominic West came up and was going to sit where Stephen Mangan and Kieran O'Brien were earlier but then went one level down where I could see many of the actors from the 1st half seated to watch the rest of the performances - Lorraine Burroughs, Rafe Spall and Helen McCrory.

2nd Half

First up - Pencil

This was for me the best of the lot. An absolute joy and a very satisfying 10 minutes. The setting was a halloween party where William Houston was telling a typically spooky story to his partner - Ruth Wilson and another couple - Andrew Scott and Anna Maxwell-Martin. Andrew is well into it but Anna doesn't find the evening even vaguely interesting and her body language tells all. Ruth starts to tell a story and Anna knows it already and in her bored state, tells the punch line. She goes off to call a cab to leave the party early and we find out that Andrew hadn't known her very long and as they met on online, still is trying to impress her. Anna returns and tells them a story about a man who tried to attack her and how she escaped his clutches by jabbing a pencil into his neck. Then, in a very matter of fact and explicitly gory fashion, describes how he bled to death and dies. She then says in a very unemotional straightfoward manner, that as it was an excellent mechanical pencil she took it out of his neck and went on her way. This makes everyone see her differently and get a bit scared of her. Most of the humour came from Anna Maxwell-Martin's spot on performance. Prop used - a fack hatched that you wear on your head that looks embedded.

next up - Genius Bar

This was a huge let down. It didn't really go anywhere and many of he lines were missed which probably contributed. A man - Jason Isaacs, goes to the Apple Store Genius Bar to get his email programme fixed. The Genius attending to him - Ashley Walters, tries to tell him that he needed to do certian things to avoid the problem. The man sees this as a sales technique and is making too much bother about a mechanical object. He gets angry and a supervisor is called - Art Malik - who tries to council the man about his computer. The man thinks they are making too much of it and they call in the next higher up - Anna Chancellor. Unfortunately, Ms Chancellor got two lines in and forgot everything - the performance stopped as she told the audience that she needed to get the script, which she did, and was on book for the remainder. After hearing what she was supposed to have memorised it was easy to see why it was a near impossible task. Not much else of importance really happens in this play. I'm thinking the prop was a laptop.

Lastly - Marmalade

A bubbly young woman - Charity Wakefield, oohs and ahhs over her breakfast at the dinner table. Especially over the marmalade. The brother of her boyfriend - Stephen Mangan, sits nearby and engages her in not so pleasant conversation. She leaves the table soon after the mother of the boyfriend - Jane Asher, enters. Through the discussion between the mother and the brother we find out they both despise the girlfriend and have been doing everything they could think of to make her want to leave. The boyfriend enters - Kieran O'Brien. Stephen Mangan figures out a way to upset the girlfriend who had mentioned that she loves a man with a beard. He convinces Kieran O'Brien to shave his beard off- which he does - live onstage. This backfires when the girlfriend still likes him but the mother is upset. There were some uncomfortable pauses during this - I think people lines were missed and forgotten and they wer partly winging it. Also an entrance was missed which left the actors in limbo. Still, Stephen Mangan managed to hold everything together. Prop used - electric hair clippers.

After the performances the winner of a raffle for a trip for two to New York to the opening of Sam Mendes bridge Project on Broadway incliding first class flight and 4 star hotel (total value £10,000) was revealed. Grahan Morotn asked all the writers and directors who were seated in the audience to stand up ( I could only see two from where I was sitting) and all the cast came out for their bows.

Although the plays and performances fizzled out a bit towards the end it was still a wonderfully enjoyable night and well worth the money, If you love theatre and can manage to scrape together the money, I would well recommend it for next year.

You can follow me on Twitter @thisbarry

The Twenty Four Hour Plays Celebrity Gala 2009 (Part 1 - Process) (The Old Vic Theatre 1/11/09) 1 November 2009

This is the 6th annual 24 Hour Plays Celebrity Galas at the Old Vic, however the history of the format goes back to 1995 when the first 24 Hour Plays was mounted in New York where it has been happening annually every since. This Gala was in aid of the Old Vic's New Voices - developing the very best young and emerging talent and opening up the building to diverse audiences through education and community projects.

Here's a rundown of the specifics - how it works, who wrote, directed and starred:

The process:

Luckily we weren't watching 24 hours worth of plays but only an hours worth. Here's what happened during the previous 22 hours.

31 October

10pm - Actors, directors and writers meet at the Old Vic. Each was asked to bring an object which they shared with everyone. Each play must include one of the objects brought to this session. After the introductions - the actors and directors are sent home.

11pm - The six writers choose their actors from photos and are taken to a hotel to write a play throughout the night.

1 November

6am - The six 10 minute plays are taken and photocopied in preparation for the directors.

7am - The directors speed read the plays and choose their favourites.

8am - Actors gather to hear how they have been cast and receive their scripts.

9am - Rehearsals begin.

3pm - Each company gets 20 minutes of onstage tech time.

7.30pm - The performances begin.

The Plays, the writers, the directors and the actors:

I Should Never Have Agreed To This

Playwright - Ol Parker
Director - Jamie Lloyd
Cast: Nigel Lindsay, Elliot Cowar, Romola Garai, Haydn Gwynne, John Light


Playwright - James Graham
Director - Josie Rourke
Cast: Clive Rowe, David Haig, Hattie Moraham, Rafe Spall

Stop Blaming, Start Loving

Playwright - Chloe Moss
Director - Patricia Benecke
Cast: Lorraine Burroughs, Helen McCrory, Dominic West

- interval -


Playwright - David Nicholls
Director - Douglas Hodge
Cast: Anna Maxwell Martin, Andrew Scott, Ruth Wilson, William Houston

Genius Bar

Playwright - Nick Moran
Director - Angus Jackson
Cast: Jason Isaacs, Anna Chancellor, Art Malik, Ashley Walters


Playwright - Amy Rosenthal
DIrector - Annabel Bolton
Cast: Charity Wakefield, Stephen Mangan, Jane Asher, Kieran O'Brien

Although not all of the six plays were equally successful for one reason or another (yes, there were missed lines and one poor actor had to stop to run offstage and retrieve a script - all actors were off book), I enjoyed myself immensely from beginning to end, and it all ran like clockwork which was amazing.

The evening was hosted by Graham Norton and began with a short film that gave insight into the process from the previous 22 hours. The film was introduced (on film) by Artistic Director Kevin Spacey who couldn't be at the event as he had to fly to New York. For a film that was shot and edited over a 20 hour period with mulitple participants I found it extremely engrossing. It was great to see the actors and directors reveal the objects they brought. Here are just a few - electric hair clippers, an inflatable (inflated) Thomas the Tank Engine child's paddling pool and a pink toilet seat. Graham also mentioned that Dominic West forgot his but evidently it was a leather gimp mask. Hmmm. There was also a bit with each playwright as they settled into their swanky hotel rooms faced with the daunting task of writing a 10-minute play on the hoof. In fact, the whole project was daunting for everyone concerned, as was continually mentioned so hats off to everyone for bringing it all together.

I'll add to this soon with more detailed rundowns of each play.