Tuesday, 27 May 2014

'Other Desert Cities' at The Old Vic

Last week we went to see one of the final performances of 'Other Desert Cities' at The Old Vic. It's a new play and I wasn't sure of what to expect. I sort of thought it would be an American talk-fest but it was so much more and kept me guessing right up until the end. It's a new play by Jon Robin Baitz and this was it's premiere in Britain. For some reason the Old Vic was transformed into a theatre in the round for this production and I'm not sure why since it didn't need it.

The play takes place on Christmas Eve in Palm Springs at the house of a former movie star and his wife and opens with the family coming in from their tennis court, both parents and children. It all starts off bright and breezy with witty banter and laughter and this tells us the back story of the family and their recent pasts. The son is a TV producer and Brooke, the daughter, is a writer who's just getting over five years of writers block and depression but she has a new book ready to be published. And that's where the problems start.

It turns out that there had been an older brother who killed himself in his teens. He's never spoken about but the memory of him has been haunting Brooke and that is the subject of her new book, a memoir of her dead brother and the accusations against her family for not saving him. It is about now that the alcoholic aunt appears who has helped her niece with background to the book.

We have top of the line actors to play the older generation, with Sinead Cusack as the mother and Clare Higgins as her sister, a former TV scriptwriting partnership, and Peter Egan as ex-film star Dad. They worked really well together with the love and rivalries of people who've known each other for a generation and more. The children are played by Daniel Lapaine and Martha Plimpton, the only American in the cast and former child star. I really liked Martha who gives as good as she gets and stands up to her distraught parents with her strength of belief in her dead brother and her memories.

Of course, it's not as straightforward as it sounds and there are lots of twists and turns along the way that kept me engaged throughout and very surprised by the unguessable ending. The final scene is Martha giving a reading from her latest book several years later in which she talks about the death of her parents and refers to the death of her brother who she hopes will get in touch. Confused? You wouldn't be if you'd seen the play.

By half-time I was quite surprised at how much I was enjoying the production and, by the end, decided it was quality stuff. I liked all the performances but I think the praise goes to the three women who all delivered excellent and very individual performances. I really enjoyed the play and was pleased that I've seen it - I'll be happy to see the revival when it returns in a decade or so.

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