Week 3: Sydney | Short & Sweet Festival

Week 3: Sydney | Short & Sweet FestivalLeft - Legends and the Fall. Cover - Triptych. Photos - Geoff Sirmai

A short play season is an easy way for an audience to experience a variety of theatrical styles in one night and Short and Sweet certainly offers variety. A variety of subjects, themes, styles (to varying degrees of aptitude in their execution) and the practitioners involved are from various backgrounds, with a varied expectation of why they are participating and what they hope to get out of it. For some it is the delight of striving for a prize, for some the allure of a being able to practise. For some it’s a hobby which challenges them beyond the patterns of their everyday lives… and for some it’s a networking opportunity. What is most admirable about the Short and Sweet participants is their willingness to participate and contribute to a festival for which they have a 1 in 10 (or in tonight’s case 1 in 11) chance to perform on a huge stage in front of 700 people (whilst being filmed) for their 1 in 11 chance of winning a prize without any financial assistance, nor any chance of covering their costs.

It is worthy to note that the powerhouses that drive the festival are the directors, who are also often the production manager/set designer/producer/sound designer/stage manager and the main point of marketing the show. It is ultimately the director who chooses their show, their cast and their production values (which is quite normal in Independent theatre) but what is unusual is they don’t get to choose their venue. Although the venues are on (roughly) the same street, they carry very different levels of history, amenities and technical support and gravitas.

The directors often outlay money for props, costumes, rehearsal space (for which the going rate in the Newtown area is $15-$20 per hour - which a 10 minute show may need at least 10 hours of rehearsal). On the whole, this festival is completely fuelled by the inspiration and the energy of the directors who put themselves, and their work into the festival and what largely Short and Sweet is, a collection of dedicated individuals who are striving to achieve.

The Alpha Bindleman written by Paul Braverman and directed by Liane Norman opens the night with an impressive set up from the outset: a bright blue tarp, a powerpoint of selected images and a desk. This play follows the attempts of a gleaming CEO (Gerry Sont) to talk his best employee Bindleman (Dave Neville) into a creative form of voluntary redundancy with the aid of Reilly (James Belfrage) and Felicia (Bellinda Dunn). With some distinct and crisp delivery and clear functional blocking, the presentation was well thought out by Norman who has clearly invested a lot into her cast and set. Although the writer is from the US, and the setting was in Australia (indicated by the accents) I did wonder about the presence of American dollars in the slide presentation.

Bill and Gerald on the Bridge written by Ben Cornfoot and directed by Leslie Marsh features Mark Daly as Bill, Hannah Meagher as Shelley and previous Short and Sweet winner of Best Actor 2007, Peter Carmody as Gerald. In the vein of Satre’s No Exit, but with a few twists and turns thrown in, this dense script contained a swarm of dialogue which ultimately resulted in a bulk of topics being covered: but without a huge amount of dramatic action.

Human Nature written by Dona Garofali Parise and directed by Tara Clark, kept things simple with a story of when Mark (Oleg Pupovac) meets Sally (Tara Clark). This sweet direct address of the subconscious thoughts running through the minds of two single people at a party, has some surprisingly tender and reassuring moments in it, demonstrating the universal awkwardness when confronted with some one you are attracted to.

Duals- Triptych written and directed by Simon Bossell contains three scenes in which fame, fidelity and family are examined. Brilliantly cast, this piece is clearly theatrically sophisticated: and brilliantly acted. Zoe Carides as the genuine and forgiving makeup artist Susan, is well matched to the diva actor Tessa (Alice Ansara). Whilst Stuart (Sam Haft) is placed in firm opposition to Pop (Tony Llewellyn-Jones) to great effect. In the third of the Triptych, Olive (Erica Baron) and Dana (Lotte St Clair) go head to head for a devastating reveal.

With You written by Daniel Ormella and directed by Jo Boag tells a dark story in the tradition of Orson Welles and classic 1950’s thriller films, of a tragic death which touches the life of Di Hammond (Amanda Lee) when she encounters a mysterious stranger Frank Cook (Glynn Oram). This short play offers a very interesting play on style and form. With heavy use of underscoring of the dialogue with the theme from Hitchcock’s Psycho and severe lighting effects, the impact of a tragic death is placed in a novel perspective.

Legends and the Fall written by Jane Miller and directed by Helen McFarlane book ends the first half of the evening’s program nicely with a farce on the topic of the cut-throat world of big business. With plenty of scope for the bright and energetic performers (Josh Futcher, Elke Osadnik and Dom Phelan) to enjoy hamming up “a whole new way to bee”. It is clearly a demonstration of being entertained by the how, not what happens in a play, as it is easy to tell the trajectory of this piece.

Post interval, we greet a beautiful preset constructed by director Melissa Azizi with a play written by Malcolm Broun OAM QC called “Dividing up the Furnture”. Two Lawyers (Dario Vo and Karen Cobban) negotiate dividing up the furniture of a divorcing couple.

Bill Henson’s Children: a short play about why Kevin Rudd Should have Studied Art written by Nick Modrzewski and directed by Julian Brophy is pretty much summed up by its title. Performed by Sarah Bishop, Sarah Knowles, Christopher McInnes, Oliver Trajkovski and Taryn Ryan. This ensemble piece is a series of invented emails/letters between the main public figures of the Bill Henson case. A very clear message about art: highly topical and over the top (especially Sir Spiro Fuckalot / Reginald Brown). A highly crafted rant about censorship.

Writer/Director Trent Atkinson’s Chocolate Face, written from an idea by Tom Pelik (who also plays Victor) examines race relations in Australia, after Kelly (Kristy Best) fails a job interview. Underscored by a sound track of noisy neighbours, the script is well balanced and the pace is succinct, filled with difficult questions and moments of comic relief. The performances and strong and the subject matter well handled, without didactism and manages to provide an equal portioned perspective.

Multiple Choice written by Iain Triffitt and Brett Danalake, directed by Carol Amos contains 5 Sophies who have a choice… to change the world from what it could be: but who to choose to stop the future from happening? This play combines the legend of Prometheus with Back to the Future, perhaps a few references to thermo dynamics and a startlingly orange jumpsuit thrown in! Surprisingly Sophie 1 nor any of the Sophies are not overly shocked, horrified or delighted or indeed surprised with the success of her work.. nor is she overwhelmed with being confronted by four versions of herself. At times the rattling nature of the dialogue was a little hard to follow the cause and effects of what was to/about to happen.

Will You Lick my Eyeball? Written by Scott Drummond and Gemma Bailey, directed by Jane Eakin is an adventurous examination of the things we do for love: sexually. Performed by a brave and comedic cast: Samantha Prior as Jill and Andy Madden as Jack supported by two alter-ego commentators Matt Ford and Shondelle Pratt. This is a bizarre and athletic piece. What could be a deeply perverse and embarrassing play to watch is handled with huge humour and resulting in, tenderness: of several varieties.

There is a lot to be impressed by from the participants of this week of Short and Sweet at Newtown Theatre: the effort, time and skill (and money) invested by the participants is startling. As a suite of plays there is an ample amount of variety, however eleven 10 minute plays feels like a lot.

Examining the relative placements of the plays in the season and in the venues (I previously reviewed S&S Seymour Week 2), I see no real distinction of why certain plays were selected for the Seymour and others for the Newtown theatre due to the high quality of the productions and performance. Some of the content is a little more risqué and some what more adventurous at Newtown than the plays at the Seymour. But on the whole these plays were better directed and performed than the plays at the Seymour Centre: who can tell if this is because the directors at Newtown are more familiar with directing in the smaller venue and therefore more comfortable with the space? Or perhaps have more to prove?

Most surprising was how many sets and costumes were involved: these directors have fully produced their shows in a major way. Unfortunately the difficult consequence to a lot of set or props is the unwieldy stage traffic which must occur between the pieces and with a seemingly understaffed stage management crew, actors fumble and shuffle about before and after their pieces resulting in the reveal of the costumes/characters from obligatory black out to the start of the play is less exciting. Awkward shuffling of banners, desks, bottles, lamps, couches in a cramped area undermines any production value they add.

As far as the actors indicated - the quality of the performances are altogether much better across the board (than other weeks I have witnessed), with some less experienced performers still appearing wooden and clumsily reciting lines they may not have necessarily understood, without authentic spontaneity or force. As each week of S&S seems to, this week contained a few clichéd and formulaic scripts, which relied on a clever final line or a sudden twist at the end to rouse applause.

The main strength of this week’s suite is the focus of the style on the production: which is a relief when you can feel safe in knowing what you are laughing at is definitely a comedy and what you are sad for is definitely meant to be tragic.


Short and Sweet Festival
Sydney Week 3

Newtown Theatre
www.shortandsweet.org

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