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Review: Other Desert Cities

The Old Vic, London SE1

    The last time the Old Vic stage was converted from old-school proscenium arch to a much funkier in-the-round space, it seemed the way this grand old theatre should stay. It still does. I doubt this funny, hard-hitting family drama by American writer Jon Robin Baitz would have been anywhere near as potent on the theatre's standard, more remote configuration.

    We're practically sitting in the minimalist Palm Springs living room of Republican Party grandees Lyman and Polly Wyatt (Peter Egan and Sinéad Cusack). It is Christmas 2003 and this family reunion could go very wrong.

    The Wyeths' rocky past includes a dead son whose protest against the Vietnam War resulted in the fatal bombing of an army recruitment centre, followed by his suicide.

    Their depressive daughter Brooke (Martha Plimpton) is about to publish a memoir about the scandal that paints her parents as monsters. There's also recovering alcoholic Aunt Silda (Clare Higgins), who snipes from the margins with reminders about Polly's Jewishness.

    That exchange results in a brilliant and hilarious comparison between the inauthenticity of Silda's faux fashion label blouse and the fake Wasp identity adopted by Polly.

    But the ticking clock here is the content of Brooke's soon-to-be-published book. And when the family reads it, it emerges that everyone is living a kind of lie.

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