Short+Sweet 2008: MelbourneShort + Sweet 2008 promises its audiences “inspiring theatre in bite-size chunks.” This week the festival kicked off its eighth year with the presentation of Melbourne’s top twenty submissions. The plays selected are those of artists who until now may have had little opportunity to have their works performed for an audience but contrary to the vision of the festival, the majority of the ten plays showcased on this particular evening were neither original nor accessible.

It is the Australian, and more recently Malaysian, festival’s aim to foster emerging artists by providing a platform for the creation and production of their works. This year the festival has chosen to base its selection not just on the merit of the ten-minute scripts submitted but on what might be described as the creative vision of the theatre ensemble entrants. Artistic Coordinator Nicholas Dubberley refers to these as “theatrical concept proposals.” It would be interesting to have an insight into these and the festival’s selection criteria because frustratingly, the more creative of these plays seem to only just miss their targets; they go off on too many or too greater tangents, or attempt to tie up loose ends all too efficiently. 

Several of the works seem to have been restricted by their playwright’s determination to construct a play around a three-act structure or to build a scene with the primary intent to end it, and the play, with a punchline. It seems somewhat of a waste when diverse new works are performed so rarely in such an esteemed venue as the Arts Centre.

There are however a few plays which showcase the promise of these emerging artists, individually and as an ensemble, and Mandragora is one of them. Writer David Sharpe explores the transient, malleable and sometimes untrustworthy nature of memory in the wake of a traumatic event. Jack Angwin, under the direction of Daniel Lammin, does a fine job of portraying the frustration and despair that must come with the unpredictable recovery of memories. The act and then ritual of placing marbles into two jars to separate memories that are true from those that are false, and memories that are his from those of another, are an ingenious storytelling tool, becoming crucial to the changing mood and pace of the play.

Mention must be made of the performances from Josh Futcher and Pip Edwards in the stylised and exaggerated work, The Celine Dion Songbook. Written by Alex Broun and directed by Stephen Nicolazzo, the play offers a bizarre and at times chilling take on caring for a child with a terminal illness. Futcher as the sinewy, fact-and-figure hungry husband, and Edwards as the busty, melodramatic wife, absorb every bit of the material they are given, and it is almost as tiring to watch them as it must be to perform.

By far the most touching and well-developed play of the evening is Kanat and the Red Army, written by Dan Giovannoni. It is Europe and in the time of the Red Army and in this environment creativity, and freedom itself, is a privilege. With the brutal taking of one comes the loss of the other. It is a professional production with a thoughtfully constructed and multi-faceted script that is as much about the act of storytelling as it is about the story itself. The performances of Elijah Ungvary as Kanat and Zoe Dawson as Elly are heart-felt and commendable. Dawson is particularly likeable and displays her versatility with sudden and unexpected accent changes. It is one of the few plays in this group of ten to succeed in telling its story because it reaches its aim, it engages its audience.

After viewing these works the question must be asked; what happened to the storytelling? Stories don’t need to have a traditional three act structure, nor must they be naturalistic, but the work as a whole needs to offer its audience something worth holding on to. The audience deserve to be taken on a journey, and the ten-minute time limitation on the Short+Sweet plays is no excuse for offering audiences anything less. 

the Arts Centre presents
Short + Sweet 2008

Venue: the Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio
Dates: 3- 20 December 2008
Tickets: $23 - $28
Bookings: | 1300 136 166 | the Arts Centre Box Office | Ticketmaster outlets

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