National One Act Playwriting Competition Wayne Clark and Yvie Somerville in The Eulogy

The three plays selected for production in the Noosa One Act Playwriting Competition make up a complimentary triptych which offer pert insights into local, if not national, life. John Cundill’s Eulogy is a pitch perfect exploration of family dynamics - QLD dynasty style. Empires, by David Allen features a warm and witty performance by Leona Kirby as a classic outback character Merle, while Decline and Hall (Roger Gimblett) is a farce that gently pokes fun at small town politics. The universally high production values, effective set design (Nelson Tomlin) and the professional attention to detail contributed to a high standard of production and a great, value-for -money night out at the theatre.

Of the three, it was the tautly dramatic script of Eulogy that left an enduring impression. John Cundill’s finely nuanced observations of the relationship between a dying mother and her ambitious developer son showed the audience why he was one of South Africa’s premier writers before migrating to Australia in 1987. Cundill illustrates how the one act form, kept thematically simple and uncluttered, can pack a punch. The humor, well-placed and sparsely rendered, infused an otherwise dark topic with the wit and wisdom of a very human experience. It was refreshing to see a sophisticated portrait of an elderly woman and Yvie Somerville’s elegant and measured delivery of Meredith Hamilton-Myrtens captured the vulnerability and pathos of a woman who knows she has limited time to live but still has a few home truths to deliver. Wayne Clark‘s Russell was the perfect foil, conveying all the frustration and lack of  empathy of a man about to have his world tipped upside down. Director Liz Park, whilst having had a wonderful script to work with, also skillfully allowed the actors to find the emotional cadence in the script. Although the blocking was a little stilted at times, this worked in conveying the contained and repressed emotional timbre of the monied class. The political references to Fitzgerald were of particular interest, showing that the one-act form can have teeth, bite and clout. This is a dramatic, intelligent script that works on both an interpersonal and socio-political level.

Empires by David Allen is an intriguing idea that required a lot from its characters and their actors. Merle - a lovely “classic”, yet never stereo typical, Australian character, and the rather grumpy English writer Frank, have a lot to do: try and nail context, establish their relationship and tell an odd story-all in one act. It’s a big ask. The idea is strong, but the form constrained rather than a liberated the themes. Allen is unpacking big ideas - DH Lawrence, a lost lover, outback relationships, Aussie Pom rivalry - just to scratch the surface and there is a sense that he and his characters need a bit more length to achieve this. The witty and fun dialogue is engaging, but the main narrative failed to fly - partly because without ample space to develop, it was hard for the audience to discern which bits of the story they should care about most; Frank and Merle, Frank’s work on DH Lawrence or Merle's revelation which demands an overly quick revision of their relationship.

Decline and Hall is a comedy that, due to it short length and hefty number of actors, is probably lucky to have been produced. It illustrates the strength and depth of the Noosa acting community that so many actors were available to fill the six roles. It was clear the cast relished the performance, due in large measure to the wit and verve of the script. Playwright Roger Gimblett captures the range of “types” that inhabit heritage and other small town committees and artfully explores the personal and the political as they intersect in community life. The dialogue never flags, the characters are instantly recognizable and the ending is a complete surprise as well as a nifty denouement. Ironically, the one act format is perfect for this “sit-com” style comedy, but pragmatically, for many theatres, it wouldn’t be viable to produce a short script with a large cast. Fortunate then, that Decline and Fall had a run at Noosa Arts Theatre.

The three finalists of the 2008 National One Act Playwriting Competition offer pert insights into local Noosa life but the “national” in the competition is a bit hard to find. There are good reasons for this, most obviously the local origins of the competition.

Finalists of the 2008 National One Act Playwriting Competition

Venue: Noosa Arts Theatre | Weyba Rd, Noosaville
Dates: 3 - 12 July 2008

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