Stars take on 24 Hour Plays gala challenge

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Some of the biggest names in theatre descended on London’s Old Vic over the weekend to write and perform six plays from scratch as part of the theatre’s seventh “24 Hour Plays” celebrity gala.

The charity event, hosted by former Python John Cleese, saw stars including Natascha McElhone, Ronni Ancona, Richard Armitage, Kelly Brook and Paterson Joseph perform material penned in under a day by the likes of Richard Curtis, Spaced’s Jessica Hynes, award-winning playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell and Scottish writer DC Jackson. Writers convened on Saturday night to write their work in time for rehearsals beginning this morning.

Within an hour of arriving the actors were up to speed. McElhone had learned her lines for Hynes’s “Speed Up Slow Down” by lunchtime while Wilson looked relaxed in jeans and trainers to pace through Jackson’s “Big Bird” in the theatres’ main auditorium.

“It gets hairier as the afternoon wears on,” said Old Vic and 24 Hour Plays producer Kate Pakenham. “At this stage, on Sunday morning, the actors don’t feel like they need to know their lines. But when it starts to get dark, and when the theatre’s lights go on, they imagine people arriving, that’s when the panic sets in. But they need to remember that everyone is on their side.”

The gala is performed in aid of the Old Vic Theatre Trust and Old Vic New Voices, the theatre’s scheme for supporting new talent.

“Every actor learns lines at a different pace it has nothing to do with how good you are,” said actor Ralf Little, who was performing in Curtis’s self-referential play “Late at Night”. “I have always been fortunate to learn mine quickly. I’d say, a few hours before going on, tentatively we will be in good shape. We don’t want to peak too early. It’s the funny thing about 24 hour plays a lot of it is how quickly you can get to be comfortable. But it always comes together in the end.”