National Anthems

Previewed 1 February 2005, Opened 8 February 2005, Closed 23 April 2005 at the Old Vic Theatre in London

The British Premiere of Dennis McIntyre's play National Anthems in London starring Kevin Spacey, Mary Stuart Masterson and Steven Weber and directed by David Grindley.

Birmingham, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, in the late 1980s. Arthur and Leslie Reed, newcomers to the area, are clearing up after a party. Suddenly one of their neighbours, Ben Cook, arrives on the doorstep unannounced to introduce himself. But what seems at first like a friendly visit gradually turns into something very different. As the night wears on the tensions within the Reeds' marriage slowly come to the surface, while Ben's failed ambitions and damaged past push his bitterness and suppressed violence to the limit. The party games increase in intensity and the emotional barriers come tumbling down, culminating in a devastating clash of wills, values and bodies.

Played in real time, Dennis McIntyre's raw and shocking play is at once a searing critique of suburban values and a hard-hitting parable about American materialism. Shot through with wit, pain and anger, it paints a powerful and honest portrait of male competitiveness, status anxiety, and the fragile nature of a marriage built on the worship of consumer goods rather than love.

The cast for National Anthems in London features Kevin Spacey as 'Ben Cook', Steven Weber as 'Arthur' and Mary Stuart Masterson as 'Leslie'. The production is directed by David Grindley with designs by Jonathan Fensom, lighting by Jason Taylor and sound by Gregory Clarke. In 1988 National Anthems was staged at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, Connecticut, directed by Arvin Brown and starring Kevin Spacey, Tom Berenger and Mary McDonnell. For this production Kevin Spacey will again reprise his role of 'Ben Cook'.

"Kevin Spacey roars back into top form as an actor of unforgettable presence and spine-tingling power in this gripping play... A wildly funny first act establishes Ben Cook (Spacey) as a working-class motor-mouth with a nice line in wisecracks. Watching him struggle to eat an unpleasant home-made shrimp puff is a brilliant piece of comic invention. Only later in British director David Grindley's mesmerising production does the story turn into an attack on America's false values when consumerism ran riot in the Eighties... His performance in this play by the late American author Dennis McIntyre is theatrical dynamite." The Sun

"A little-known playwright called Dennis McIntyre based this claustrophobic, laughter-laced satire in late 1980s suburban Detroit... Mr Spacey is on fine form. He has the waxy face, clunky shoulders, the 'let me tell ya something!' relentlessness that can make suburban bores such social terrorists. In places teh comedy of refined manners makes this an American Abigail's Party... National Anthems is fluent, funny, an easy watch with several good lines. The set opulent, the acting more perfect then the casting." The Daily Mail

"I wish I could also report that Kevin Spacey had chosen a major American drama to mark his return to the British boards but, alas, National Anthems is a very minor work indeed, hopelessly reminiscent of better plays by both Arthur Miller and Edward Albee... Moreover, after years in front of the cameras, Spacey gives the kind of close-up performance that is in danger of being lost to some of the Vic's open spaces. Sure, he is charismatic as the outsider... But as Cook he is unable to grab our attention sufficiently or distinguish between his flights of fancy and his all too real suburban existence as a failed fireman. The final twist is touching and unpredictable, but just as the characters seem to feel little for each other, it is hard for us to feel for them." The Daily Express

"Dennis McIntyre's National Anthems features three characters - a youngish lawyer called Arthur and his wife Leslie, who have just been giving a party at their home in suburban Detroit, and a stranger who shows up when everyone else has gone. Kevin Spacey, as the stranger, reminds us what a fine actor he is. There are accomplished performances from Steven Weber and Mary Stuart Masterson, too. All that is missing is a good play... The striking thing is how little build-up of tension there is in all this. The moves are clearly laid out, like a diagram of the footwork in an old-fashioned dancing manual. What you never get is the actual dance. McIntyre would have done better to have gone for out-and-out caricature. As it is, we are presented with supposedly realistic characters who only exist to prove a point." The Sunday Telegraph

"Oh dear. Kevin Spacey is an actor of genius and it is a thrill to see him in tiptop form at the Old Vic. But in his role as artistic director he is proving far less surefooted. National Anthems, by Dennis McIntyre, is not even worth standing up for. It's not bad. But it's not very good. Set in 1988, in a pristine, pale yellow drawing-room in suburban Detroit, a yuppie couple have just held a party to meet their new neighbours... McIntyre seems to be concerned with fluffily amusing mockery of a nation on the make, obsessed with real-estate prices and fancy furniture from Italy and Denmark. Ben is a much more interesting person; odd, enigmatic and an outsider, which makes him exactly the sort of character which Spacey, the master of ambiguity, inhabits so convincingly. Then it all pours out. He's a fireman whose greatest moment, a heroic rescue of a woman, also resulted in his being fired. He's desperate to prove that he is actually somebody to be reckoned with, even if it is just by winning a pathetically childish fight with a mean, lean lawyer on the living-room floor. As the evening deteriorates into a watered-down version of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, Ben completely unravels. If McIntyre was intending, as the title suggests, to write something more symbolic and satirical, he fails. The performances are infinitely better than this play deserves." The Mail on Sunday

National Anthems in London at the Old Vic Theatre previewed from 1 February 2005, opened on 8 February 2005 and closed on 23 April 2005.