Inside The 24 Hour Plays
Go behind the scenes at this year's Old Vic New Voices: 24 Hour Plays...
The 24 Hour Plays is an experience like no other. Fifty actors, writers, directors and producers met in The Old Vic’s large rehearsal room at 9pm on Saturday night. Each actor was asked to bring in a prop to inspire the writers, and to mention their special skill – choices ranged from a roasting fork and knife to a pop-up tent (both used in the finished plays), while special skills included acrobatics and, somewhat peculiarly, theft. An hour or two later the group dispersed, apart from the writers, who settled down for a night of writing, pacing and panicking, culminating in seven finished plays just hours later.
Sunday morning began with breakfast in The Old Vic’s pit bar at 8am. Excited actors and directors munched croissants as they waited to hear which play they would be performing and who they would be working with. The final pieces were: fraught family comedy The Aim Of The Game (Jonathan Brittain), apocalyptic drama And Then There Were Four Little Beats Of Four Little Hearts On The Edge Of The End (Alice Birch), teenage virginity comedy I Can’t Take This Any More (Lucinda Cardey), thought-provoking afterlife piece Last Train Home (Isabel Dixon), voodoo comedy Wooosah (Arinze Kene), Beckettian post-end-of-the-world drama Joy (Corinne Salisbury) and demolition protest comedy Boomerang (Daran Johnson).
I Can’t Take This Any More’s title garnered a huge round of laughter from the group – it was an all-too familiar feeling during this stressful weekend. After producer Mark Cartwright efficiently divided out the plays, rehearsals began.
After the initial read-through, each director had a different idea about how to get their group bonding. I Can’t Take This Any More director Stef O’Driscoll got her actors massaging each other. “We do this in class all the time,” assistant director Sarah Richards explained. “The aim is to wake you up and loosen you up.” The cast looked spectacularly relaxed after the session and their play ended up getting some of the biggest laughs of the night.
Each group was then given play time on the stage. Rehearsals continued until lunchtime, while the afternoon was spent ironing out technical issues. Around this time, the writers, who had been catching up on some well-needed zzzs, showed up, barring Wooosah’s Arinze Kene, who arrived at 5:30pm, just in time to practice the group curtain call. “Time just ran away with me – that’s never happened before!” he said.
Relaxing in the foyer of The Old Vic on Sunday afternoon, Boomerang writer Daran Johnson said of his overnight scriptwriting: “I thought ‘I’ve got a plan’ – but it was revealed to me that it didn’t work on any level.” He only finished at 6:20am (writers were meant to finish by 5:30am), finding he couldn’t write jokes until the sun came up. Four Little Hearts writer Alice Wright also found it tough. “Everyone seemed to be going at the speed of light,” she said. “I had pictures of the actors on the desk. Those four faces staring at me – saying ‘don’t f**k it up’.”
As the show drew closer, actors withdrew into their preparations, while the writers worried about the audience reaction and wrestled with their inability to modify their plays. Old Vic New Voices staff members and volunteers rushed about, making sure everything was ready.
Post-show, the group was drawn together and praised by Old Vic New Voices boss Steve Winter, who also handed out tickets for the party. Finally, it was time to relax and celebrate.
So did the cast enjoy the experience? Wooosah actor David Mumeni said: “I was so happy to play this part – it’s what I wanted.” Fellow cast member Keisha Amponsa Banson also had an exciting time, from the audition weekend on: “It was intense. I trained in musical theatre – this was a completely different experience.”
Considering that the last man standing at the party was there at 6:47am, we can safely say the group had a wonderful time. Bring on 2011...
Find out more about the plays and their casts in our blog here
By Miriam Zendle