Short+Sweet Canberra

Short+Sweet CanberraSometimes a degustation is better than a three-course meal; you get to taste different flavours and put things aside if it’s not quite your cup of tea. In amongst the confits and amuse bouches though are your fave flavours in a feast of comedy and tragedy - there’s a nibble for all at Short + Sweet. At the very least, you’ll never look at whipped cream or apples the same again.

Short + Sweet is a production of ten, 10-minute plays, on any topic. Running nationally again in 2009, each region requested submissions for scripts 10 minutes long on any topic. This year’s performance in Canberra had the region’s 10 best from 60 as selected by judges. There is also a one-off performance of 10 other ‘wild-card’ scripts. Each script gives opportunities for actors and directors to bring the writing to life and the best production of this round will get a slot in the national round in 2010, with prizes, cash and future production possibilities. The small Courtyard Studio at the Canberra Theatre is ideal for such plays, where the actors’ tears and subtle body language - even apple breasts - can be seen by all. And there’s a People’s Choice award each night where you can vote for your favourite play.

But which play was something worth ticking the box for?

As always, the bottom line is whether a play is entertaining. The ingredients that go into a tasty production are originality, clarity and genuineness, all of which come through via acting, writing and direction.

Over two hours, the 29 actors brought the scripts to life. The themes ranged from dark moments of child abuse and post-natal depression, to light takes on the nanny-state anti-drug movement, existentialism and flatmate sexual tension.

Kicking off the evening was the comedy Apples and Oranges by Jonathan Garland, with quick quippy dialog like Dawson’s Creek and an opposites-dynamic between male and female flatmates. Peter (George Poulakis) was convincing as the lazy bloke and Sarah (Nicole Jones) held herself with the poise and snootiness apt for one such as endowed with oranges as she.

Doing a U-turn on the smiley face was An Ordinary Street, written by Susan Pelegrino. Powerful and visceral, it was a fly-on-the-wall view of the complete exhaustion and helplessness of a mother with post-natal depression pushed to the brink. Alison McGregor who played the mother was absorbed in the internal grief and numbness of her character, expertly expressing her emotional turmoil in voice and presence. The direction by Camilla Blunden strengthened the element of societal removal, using effective sound effects and narrator strategy to penetrate the jaw-dropping serious subject. However some of the external audio overlapped with the dialog, making it tricky to understand at times.

Moving to a bright and sunny day in the life of the public service was The Urban Jungle, written by Bruce Hoogendoorn about a mission to spread government information about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. There were some witty one-liners and the ending was funny, though predictable.

The reverse time scale of A Message to People Smugglers, Told in Reverse written by Jim Jones was about a do-gooder’s quest to stop people smuggling, by going to the source. Actor Raoul Craemer switched between characters well, but the last one’s accent was so thick I couldn’t understand it. Overall the storytelling highlighted the futility and ‘passing-the-buck’ that is people smuggling - at both ends.

The highlight of the evening came at the end of the first block - Wheelbarrow, Stoat & Mountain Man, Attorneys at Law. Not only was the script by Adam Hadley clever and shocking, but the actors clearly took  great relish in their quirky roles, especially the booming stage presence of Adam Salter’s Quimley Nopipes Wheelbarrow XI and Alison McGregor was outstanding as Miss Adelaide Pantgravy, transforming into a banshee of a Miss Piggy impression.

After the intermission, it was time to sit back and relax again with Soaking In It by Jodi Cramond. This was a comedic tale of the meaning of life and how people consider their own existence. The ending felt a bit flat though and throughout the acting seemed awkward and repetitive - a lot of standing around. Though maybe that was the point - isn’t that what most of our life is?

From bathtubs to birthdays, the mood shifted again with the exploration of abuse as told through an 8-year-old’s eyes in Carter’s Birthday by Sandy Bigna. The adult Riley Bell narrates Carter’s story with insights into his hopes and dreams as the creeping shadow of his father’s violence escalates by voice off-stage (Pat Howe) upsetting Carter's loving mother (Jenna Roberts). The direction by Jordan Best was a clever way of presenting a mostly-monologue play and the climax hit the ‘ouch’ spot of emotions.

Absurd! Crabs and Mischa Barton have something in common? Yes it’s true, in Trust Me I’m a Doctor by Joel Barcham. When hypochondriac Tom (Daniel McCusker) visits his GP he gets a surprise when the doc reveals why his life has changed for the better, and wouldn’t Tom like to try it too? The highlight was the very physical acting by charismatic doctor Brian Kavanagh who was extreme in voice, movements and riding a unicycle.

Is there anything so bad that can’t be forgiven? The power of friendship is told by letter writing over years in Snowflakes by Emma Gibson. However, the clever use of time shifts and distance wasn’t carried off clearly as it was difficult figuring out how the two characters knew each other and the ending lacked a resolution.

On Green Green Grass by Kathryn McLeod was more bells and whistles than plot - literally. The costumes and bright body movement, makeup and costumes were fun, but compared to the other plays, there was no underlying message. Does that matter though? Sometimes it’s enough just to have a giggle, and there were plenty of those.

Overall, the Short + Sweet plays showed great promise and fulfilled their requirement to be entertaining. Some were lacking in a central dramatic question and definite ending. This was a bit like having a plate full of garnish without some hearty fries to dip in the tartare. Luckily though there were plenty of other nibbles to satisfy a hunger for entertainment and come back for seconds next year.


Short+Sweet Canberra
TOP 10 PLAYS

Venue: Canberra Theatre Centre
Dates/Times: Sept 2 - 5, 7.30pm
Tickets: $25/$20
Bookings: 02 6275 2700 or visit www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au

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