It is the third and last week of the annual Short & Sweet 10-minute play competition that has been running since 2001. The season comprises six shows, with ten plays in each: three for the top 30, and 3 Wildcards shows. The sixty plays have been selected from the 1141 scripts submitted. So what might have great appeal in the writing then has to stand the test of being staged by experienced and no-so experienced directors and actors.
The final ten of the Top 30 on show this week range from the excellently written and performed to the interesting but unprofessional or patently predictable. The applause was not a reliable indicator of merit, as some shows seemed to bring their own cheer squad.
First up, the erotic melodrama Brocade Sonata was one of these. The program credits Machination Theatre Ensemble Inc. with creating this play, which consists of ten minutes of gay posturing loosely tied to a theme of lust that focuses on a hetero couple who are completely insipid and lacking in passion. A homosexual passion would have made more sense. Please explain.
Bomb Disposal provided just the right change of mood. An overbearing English tourist (played brilliantly by Jonathan Dyer) encounters Aussie pub culture. The dialogue between him and his female companion (Clare Callow) is a clever counterpoint of their differing points of view, nicely accented by the laconic Australian (Matthew Green).
Uncontrollable Performance Art Moments was a helter-skelter business, with the six actors playing multiple roles (rather well, I must admit). A bit too much to fit into ten minutes – several plays exceeded their allotted time – and Rodney the Performance Artist (Angus Brown) rushed breathlessly through his words, partly no doubt because of his physical exuberance. An absurd immature piece that the audience loved and I found embarrassing.
The Gentleman Had an Axe, by one of the better-known writers, David Astle, takes a more serious storyline, John Batman’s purchase of Melbourne from the Aboriginals for a few trinkets. It feels like a short story that becomes muddled in performance, particularly with the use of a dummy for a child and two white people dressed in skins playing Aboriginals. The acting let this piece down. What promised to be confronting turned out to be confusing.
Word Space used a simpler concept that worked more effectively in the shorter timeframe. Two characters negotiated the Sydney Opera House to spread an anti-war message. Or was it the Harbour Bridge? And why were they carrying paints, when they ended up spreading a ready-made banner? Apart from these minor inconsistencies, the dilemma they faced and the relationship between them was full of tension. They used the upper levels of the stage to great effect.
Almost, a two-hander by a Canadian writer Krista Dalby, was a very precise and professional vignette presented by Fly-on-the-Wall Theatre and directed with clarity by Robert Chuter. Two office workers, one male and one female, conduct an unrequited affair. The theme of lack of courage and regret provides the tension and the actors (particularly Nicola Wright) use a variety of pace to deliver the comedy and the pathos.
You Me and Desiree Potato followed. As the title suggest, it concerns juveniles and fantasy. It has a lyrical quality and is a difficult play to stage. The boy (Dylan Henry) is charismatic but speaks his words in monotone, and the drama fails to move.
Blindingly Obvious Facts by Ben Ellis is an interesting concept: strangers comment on the death of a woman activist in Israel. Ellis juxtaposes reality and supposition, and highlights the prejudices that proliferate in wartime. The production muddies the concept though with the five speaking characters (who, barefoot, still seem to be workshopping the play) stomping and shouting their opinions. A quieter, more nuanced and insidious approach, which was used at the end to great effect, might have been more appropriate.
Perfect was another two-hander. A couple split up to travel the world and look for the perfect partner. This graphic onstage illustration of romantic illusion is well conceived and written by Aaron Scully and performed with vigour and subtlety by David Bailiht and Katherine Halliday. It has a strong opening and ending, but loses momentum in the middle, which is understandable since the two actors are endlessly rushing around in a circle, which of course is the whole idea!
Last up was A Dish Best Served Cold, a chilling revenge story of three women taking a rapist’s fate into their own hands. The play, written by Frank Otis, is vividly brought to life by the actors, but it is one-dimensional. It is hard to be engaged with these characters, who seem to have no dilemma about taking justice into their own hands. They speak their lines straight out to the audience. The play would have been much better if the audience had been privy to the contradictory thoughts and feelings of these women.
The audience has a chance to vote for their favourite play at the end of the night. These votes are taken into consideration by the judges, and winners will be announced after the final show on Saturday 22 December.
Short & Sweet
Venue: The Arts Centre | Fairfax Theatre
Dates: Top 30, 5-22 December 2007
Wildcards, 8, 15 & 22 December
Times: Top 30 8pm, Wildcards Sat 2pm
Duration: 2 hours
Tickets: $23 - $28
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 136 166, the Arts Centre box office or www.theartscentre.com.au