Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Playing for Time

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Playing for Time

Article excerpt

The Casualtyactor and acclaimed playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah explains why he has agreed to take part in a unique theatrical challenge at the Old Vic - plays conceived, written and performed in just 24 hours time

Ohhhh my Goddddd, I must be mad! That was my reaction once it actually sank in that I have agreed to participate in a night of theatre created from scratch in just 24 hours. The fact that when something similar has been done in New York and LA over the past few years, people have said it was 'a great night of fun' is of little comfort to me.

I willingly confess that because our event is being staged to raise money for the Old Vic's New Voices programme - an initiative that takes four writers as yet unproduced in the US to New York to showcase readings of their works and introduce them to topflight theatrical practitioners in a whirlwind 10-day tour - it was initially appealing. But doing a good deed pales against the possible shame, humiliation or embarrassment of making an ass of yourself before a huge number of people.

Plays take months, sometimes years, to write, not seven hours!

The whole company of 24 actors, six writers and six directors will assemble at 10pm on Sat 5 Jun on the historic Old Vic stage. The list of actors includes Christopher Eccleston, Emilia Fox, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Brian Cox. The directors include Phyllida Lloyd, Angus Jackson and Sean Holmes. The competition includes the wonderful writers Catherine Johnson, Nick Grosso, Abi Morgan, Michael Wynne, Anthony Neilson and, of course, me.

Each of us will bring along a prop and will pose with it for a Polaroid.

Then the actors and directors depart, leaving us, the ones whose reputations will really be on the line, to be ferried off to the nearby City Inn Hotel, Westminster, to do the hard work. Ultimately, an actor has a get-out clause - 'I'm only as good as my material, darling' - the director the same, but what excuses do we, the writers, have? 'I've only had seven hours?' Kate Pakenham, the producer and genius behind the 24-hour plays, will spread photos of the actors on to a giant table and then hand to PA/TONY BUCKINGHAM/REX the writers some state-of-the-art apparatus (cards numbered one to six) to determine who gets to pick the first actor. At 7am we will hand our work to the directors who will choose which play they want. From 9am-4pm the actors will rehearse and, following a brief technical run-through, the plays will be staged at 7.45pm.

I hadn't really thought about the 24-hour play properly until I sat down to write this piece.

Now, I'm getting paranoid, I'm searching for ways in, ways of preparing, doing homework for a project that actually relies exclusively on one's ability to improvise, to produce a 10-minute narrative from nothing, that doesn't feel as if you've only had a couple of hours to plan your characters, to work out your theme, to create your story and to weave your plot. …

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