24 Hour Plays, The Old Vic, London

Spacey stars in a 24-hour drama blitz at the Old Vic
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The Independent Culture

The writers of last night's 24 Hour Plays may have been shattered, but the cast of stage, film, and television stars doing a drama blitz for charity showed no strain.

At 10pm on Saturday, they got together to create six short plays, to be written overnight by Colin Teevan, Snoo Wilson and others, rehearsed from 8am Sunday, and then presented before an audience lubricated with as much champagne as they could snag from passing waiters.

The third annual benefit raised £110,000 for the Old Vic, New Voices Programme supporting young talent, and gave the actors a chance to expand their horizons. Few in the audience can have previously seen, for instance, Patricia Hodge snog Tamzin Outhwaite.

Kevin Spacey, the artistic director of the Old Vic, thanked supporters for "the legal stimulants we needed to get through this," and Graham Norton for "sending the box of pills. We sent them back.''

After impersonating various film stars (his Christopher Walken was particularly wicked), Spacey turned the evening over to Catherine Tate, who introduced each play, adding comments on the participants: "According to a website set up by his fans, Jonathan Cake is 'a seething volcano of testosterone'. Well, get her!"

As one might expect from an evening with so many musical stars (Nichola McAuliffe, Clarke Peters), there was vocalising, though it was not necessarily integrated into the plot. Nick Moran, for instance, kept breaking out of his part as a critic in a green dressing-gown to sing Frank Sinatra songs. The rest of the time he would battle for Greg Wise's soul with a six-foot rabbit carrying a shotgun. (One feels it would take longer to summarise a few of the plays than it did to perform then).

Nor were the musical performances of a conventional nature. Greg Hicks, as a ritual healer, brought the house down with his rendition of ancient Brazilian music while dressed only in trainers, a leather jacket and a codpiece. "Do you have to wear that?" a horrified Tom Hollander asked. Hicks nodded gravely. "It saves a lot of time." But, then, the troubled family in April de Angelis's play was itself far from conventional. "We don't have enough sex!'' Greta Scacchi wailed to Hollander, who replied with an anguished: "Mother!"

Cake's testosterone did him little good against the two harpies of East End soap opera household. Pam Ferris delivered her lines like a Valkyrie, and Susannah York, cast hilariously against type as a Dot Cotton-style friend, asked "Shall I put the kettle on?'' after each gory act of family violence. As an actor returning to his hillbilly home, Vince Vaughn was also involved in family homicide - against a mother (McAuliffe) who crosses herself when she hears the word "Hollywood".

The plays will probably not find their way into the anthologies, but they amused the punters, some of whom went off to a party where they had the chance to win the role of Santa Claus's helper in a new film starring Spacey. That could hardly be dafter than the Old Vic plays last night.