Shorter and Sweeter, Regional Australia It's Cocktail Hour

Shorter & Sweeter Cast‘Short and Sweet’ it seems has metamorphosed into something bigger and better than a good many major stage productions. It’s now about to go to regional Australia. Aren’t they in for a surprise? These shorthand sketches of life are not hors d’oeuvres, rather they’re the cocktails.

The ten minute slices of life that makeup the seasonal offering of ‘Short and Sweet’ in Sydney, Melbourne and Singapore is about to present itself courtesy of Arts on Tour as part of the Federal initiative of Playing Australia. It goes under the title ‘Shorter and Sweeter’.

It came into being as the collected ‘best of the best’ which was taken to Melbourne in 2005 as well as to Parramatta and Singapore. Both Melbourne and Singapore subsequently staged their own seasons. Now ‘Shorter and Sweeter’ is going regional starting in The Alice, hopping up to Darwin then across and down the east coast, finishing up in the National Capital.

This innovative presentation of playlets declares its vision of ‘making the world a better place ten minutes at a time’. It started off as a means to showcase new writers but its aspirations have grown with its success.

‘Short and Sweet’ and its various spin-offs, is the brain child of Mark Cleary. It debuted in Sydney in 2002 at the Newtown Theatre. Each year the producers glean ninety of the best from some fifteen hundred playlets that are submitted from all over the world. They are then staged over a fortnight in blocks of eight or nine in two venues in Sydney and selectively through other venues. This year it was by all accounts a sell out season everywhere.

With major sponsors now on board it is no longer the shoestring affair of yesteryear. The essence of the programme hasn’t markedly changed although the quality of scripts are getting better each year with the continuing exposure to this specific genre of drama.

One reviewer remarked on its instant success that ‘it’s hard to get bored in ten minutes but if you do you know it’s not going to last long’ and in a way that may be the key to its success. Plays that are only given ten minutes have to get their act together. It has that feature in common with advertising, they know they’ve got thirty seconds and they need to make the most of it.

It would be wrong however to underestimate the dramatic form. It has been likened to an entrée. The main course, one presumes, is the full length drama. The short play or at least this shortened version of the short play is very different to a full drama, it’s more a segment in a review, a cartoon. It has to stand alone and at its best it reflects one of life’s absurdities. Some very notable dramatists have excelled in the format notably John Mortimer, Christopher Duran and Harold Pinter to name a few. It should reflect the same aspects that make good visual cartoons; they should be locally or universally relevant, immediately recognisable and quirkily discordant.

In this respect they bare likening to a good cocktail. Built on a topical issue as a base it is cut with the author’s choice of treatment; sweet or dry, sour or aromatic. It is then finished with that individual twist that flavours it and announces to the discerning palate that here is a craftsman at work. It’s ten minutes of magic.

Each offering is complete in itself and may indeed whet the novice pallet for a meal in another genre, a full blown play. There has been a resurgence in cocktails in recent years and most, it’s true, are frightful attempts at the craft. Nevertheless Cleary’s success in staging the mother of this programme ensures that the dross has been removed and what is being presented may be some of the best the world has to offer.

The plays that have been chosen to break the ice have been selected from the finalists over the past few years. When you consider there have been over five thousand plays submitted from around the world to describe them as ‘the best of the best’ is no idle claim. They include:
Upwardly written and directed by Mark Cleary. It’s where the mobile phone interrupts the most meaningful moments of life.
Moving Fast written and directed Adam Gelin. A domestic dilemma! Has one party delusions of grandeur or is the other in denial?
Borys the Rottweiler by Christopher Johnson, directed by Mark Cleary. We’ve all got baggage, even dogs, and we’ve all got different ways to unpack it.
This Bitch Called Home written and directed Catherine Cresswell, It’s a case of the Australian dream and both parties better beware.
Saturday Night Newtown, Sunday Morning Enmore by Alex Broun, directed by Alex Galeazzi. The cold light of day after the night before brings realisation and rationalisation.
The Keys to the Mystic Halls of Time by Matt Casarino (USA), directed by Adam Gelin. Some of us know what to expect in cyber space and some of us are likely to be surprised.
The Example by Tom Taylor, directed by Felicity Burke. What do you do in a world of terror when even the innocent becomes suspicious?
Relics by Iain Triffitt & Brett Danalake, directed by Alex Galeazzi. What’s happened to Hilde’s husband since 1944 doesn’t bear mentioning!
Paradise by Steven Hopley, directed by Alex Galeazzi. The bare arsed truth of the fall.

Perhaps what is most exciting is that all these plays are by new writers and all the venues to which they will tour have bought into them. They’re not just on open offer. It suggests that regional Australia might be rather more savvy in its theatrical taste than its apparently more provincial metropolitan counterpart.

This may, however, simply be that metropolitan patrons have to be content with what’s being served up to them. After all they seem to devour ‘Short and Sweet’ even though it’s true that it came off quite a small base. There is the danger that the need to retain subscribers may result in the permanent theatre companies erring on the side of caution in choosing the material on offer. Ultimately theatre will only thrive on testing its audiences with the unexpected; if it fails there it is likely to fail altogether.

Of course the inaugural overture of ‘Shorter and Sweeter’ may be playing on that more vulgar of interests for which Sheffield became so famous, the promise of the ‘full Monty’. We are all the same under the skin it seems so perhaps we are all keen to see it exposed one way or another. Maybe that’s why the producers have kept ‘Paradise’ last. 

Well, no shame in that, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt knowing that theatre is still the best entertainment you can get, wherever you are.

A very talented cast will perform the plays each playing several roles across the night. Cast members are Sophie Cook, Alan Flower, Christine Greenough, Olivia Solomons, Johann Walraven and Heath Wilder.

It promises to be a wild and very surprising night for anyone with ten minutes to spare, after that you’re free to go if you want to. Ultimately ‘Shorter and Sweeter’ and its forebear ‘Short and Sweet’ may achieve that ambitious goal Cleary and his artistic directors, Alex Broun, Adam Gelin and Van Badham have set for themselves, to arrest a possible gradual decline in theatre fare that at times threatens to become little better than porridge.

The venues for the tour are:
Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, N.T. 30 April/ 1 May 2008
Darwin Entertainment Centre, N.T. 3 May 2008
Cairns Civic Theatre QLD. 6 May 2008
Riverway Arts Centre Thuringowa, QLD. 8 May 2008
Pilbeam Theatre, Rockhampton Performing Arts Centre QLD. 10 May 2008
Brisbane Powerhouse QLD. 13 – 17 May 2008
Jetty Memorial Theatre, Coffs Harbour, NSW. 20- 21 May 2008
The Little Theatre, Woy Woy NSW. 23-24 May 2008
The Drum Theatre, Dandenong, VIC. 27 May 2008
Frankston Arts Centre, VIC. 29 May 2008
Warrnambool Regional Performing Arts Centre, VIC. 31 May 2008
Canberra Theatre Centre, ACT. 3 June – 7 June 2008

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