Shorter & Sweeter. An apt and characteristically smart moniker for the best of Short 'n' Sweet, the world's biggest 'little' play festival.
In case you're an ostrich, Short + Sweet is the Tropfest of theatre, with each play limited to 10 minutes. Some would argue, not without justification, more plays should run as long. Well, not as long. Well, you get the drift, I think.
Playing Australia, funded by the Feds, enables this, well, short, but sweet, festival to tour extensively. That's a good and worthy thing. Last night's programme proved it; opening with Artistic Director (nepotism? never!) Mark Cleary's Upwardly, directed by same and, on this occasion, featuring Sophie Scott, as sole cast member. Soon after launching into a melodramatic 'twas a dark and stormy night'-type sleight on the art of the playwright, the actor's rhythm is thrown, by a wayward mobile phone. She regroups, for all is out of joint. It happens again. And again. The final time, it turns out to be her mobile. Then, if not before, the penny drops. It's all a very cruel, clever, conniving plot, against the unsuspecting audience, culminating in an infuriatingly begrudging touche moment. And I do mean clever, for it points to our capacity and willingness to suspend disbelief, to be taken into wily, artful tales, in darkened spaces, in dingy places. Bravo!
Moving Fast, written & directed by another of the usual Short 'n' Sweet suspects, the amiable Adam Gelin, harks back a couple of seasons, but stands the test of time. Starring Olivia Solomon, as Susan, and Alan Flower, as Roger / Mustafa Woolloomooloo, it is a fanciful journey down an improbable path, wherein, while Susan is out buying milk, Roger converts to Islam, becomes 'Aborigine', overthrows democracy (given the overwhelming will of the people), becomes supreme leader and plots Susan's demise. Both are good. Flower is built for the role; a man who's funny just standing still.
The Bitch Called Home, by Catherine Creswell, though exhibiting some patient craft inasmuch as, for the most part, it rhymes, I found somewhat annoying and pointless, in its remembrance (as if we needed it) of all things good and greedy in Sydney's real estate-of-mind. Not hot dramatic property, for mine. Maybe I missed something. Nonetheless, Sophie Cook & Christine Greenough (who also put in a convincing cameo, in Upwardly) were more than fine.
Borys The Rottweiler, by the multi-talented and perspicacious Christopher Johnson, deftly directed by Mark Cleary, and played admirably, by the most excellent Heath Wilder. The inside track is, it's based on a true story, wherein the Rotty next door killed Johnson's pair of appetising yapsters, understandably upsetting the family. This, perversely, but to his immense credit, inspired Johnson, in a fit of imaginative yearning, to explore the workings of Borys' canine cauliflower. The result is almost transcendent, in comic and dramatic terms: an incredibly skilful, anthropomorphic caricature.
Saturday Night Newtown, Sunday Morning Enmore, Alex Broun's mandatory contribution, directed by Alex Galeazzi, also a blast from seasons past, brings yet another finely-tuned performance from Sophie Cook, as the hysterical, pissed Claire, who succumbs to the modest charms of Matthew (recent Hamlet, for New, Johann Walraven); charms which, thanks to Broun's charismatic word-processing, principally, prove to be not so modest. Nice work!
Post-interval brought The Keys To The Mystic Halls Of Time, an examination of virtuality versus reality (there's a difference?), by Matt Casarino, directed by Adam Gelin, featuring a deliciously medieval, wide-eyed performance by Heath Wilder, as Scott, who, on the threshold of computer-game consummation, is left by his long-suffering girlfriend, Annie, played by Olivia Solomons. Walraven is his opposite, distracted only by Alan Flower, as Dan. Very original material, without flaw.
The Example, by Tom Taylor and directed by Felicity Burke, touches on the war on terror, notions of trust and suspicion and the bases for them, bigotry, credulity, offbeat romance, superstition, alienation and more. All this, from an abandoned bag on a suburban railway platform. Effected elegantly, by a fragrant delivery by Flower & a spicy one, by Cook.
Penultimate play, Relics, is a shudderingly piquant, poisonous turn of the tables on Neo-Nazism, penned by Iain Triffitt & Brett Danalake; directed by Galeazzi (who sounds like he should be an uberfashion icon). More craft from Walraven; solidity from Wilder and shimmering, restrained brilliance, courtesy Greenough.
Paradise, though grounded 'in the beginning', ended the set, with nakedly amusing script, by Steven Hopley, haute couture direction by Galeazzi, and unadorned comedic panache, from Solomons (not a natural blonde, I've reason to believe) & Flower, is snappy, gently irreverent and refreshingly undemanding; not least for the costume department. Like the apple, also delicious!
Shorter 'n' Sweeter is the Reader's Digest cutdown of an increasingly sassy, sexy little festival; the world's biggest shorts, with plenty to fill 'em!
Venue: Newtown Theatre, Cnr King and Bray Streets
Dates/Times: July 8-19 Tues-Sat 8pm
Tickets: $26 and $22 (concession)
Bookings: 1300 306 776 or on-line www.mca-tix.com
Warning: These performances include Nudity & Adult Themes