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National Anthems at the Old Vic

Marion Marples

The first half of Dennis McIntyre's grimly fascinating play seems like an extended version of 'Great Bores of Today'.

Socially awkward Ben Cook gatecrashes the designer but soulless home of newly arrived model couple Arthur (Steven Weber) and Leslie (Mary Stuart Masterson) to the upwardly mobile neighbourhood of Detroit. Not content with giving a cash value to their whole lifestyle, Ben, played by Kevin Spacey as a slow burning fuse, takes control of all their lives.

The pace quickens in the second half, when guilt and inadequacy ratchet up the tension. Ben's underdog personality begins to disintegrate and basic primal and territorial aggression takes over, goading Arthur into a fight. Leslie's past life as a cheer leader comes back to remind her of earlier freedoms. The subplot of dangerous fire surfaces and her flame coloured dress then seems to make sense. The play ends as the gatecrasher at last takes his leave, with all lives turned upside down.

• National Anthems is at the Old Vic Theatre until Saturday 23 April

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