01 December 2006

Short and Sweet 2006 Week 1

Short and Sweet 2006 Week One Top 10
29 November 2006
The Arts Centre, Fairfax Theatre

Forget the big shows that are on at the moment, the best night of theatre in Melbourne for the next couple of weeks is at the Short and Sweet 2006 festival at The Arts Centre.
From over 800 entries, 60 short plays have been selected, which are presented in three weekly programs. Each week has a top ten running nightly and a Saturday afternoon ten play “wildcard” session. Of the 60 plays, ten are chosen by the audience and a professional judging panel to complete in the final.
With so many outstanding writers, directors and actors involved in the program, I can’t begin to name everyone, but must give suitable cheers and accolades to Carla Hartog and Alex Broun from the Arts Centre program team for creating and producing this positive, supportive and exciting program. Short and Sweet proves the abundance of original and well written work that is being created, whilst showcasing so many of Melbourne’s independent and emerging directors and actors. It’s fabulous.

Week One Top Ten

Beautiful, captivating physical theatre that proves you don’t need words to create emotion and capture an audience’s heart. (And choreographically – it does for couches what Fosse did for chairs.)

The 11 O’Clock
Wit and word play worthy of Shaw. A psychiatrist treats a patient who thinks he is a psychiatrist.

Moving Fast
What happens when you come home from getting milk and your unemployed husband has decided to convert to Islam, claim his aboriginal heritage and stage a political coupe? Absurdism is alive and well, but it would have benefited by a clear decision about whose story it is telling – his or hers?

When We Fall
Slow to develop, but worth the wait. “An angel is floating in front of me and waiting to fall.” Poetic without sounding contrived, with direction that allows us to care about each character, whilst slowly revealing their tragic connection.

The Emotional Anatomy of a Relationship Breakdown
Undoubtedly and deservedly the crowd favourite of the night. Standard dumper and dumpee story made complex and compelling by having six actors represent different facets of the two characters. This enabled a unique and complex picture of the each person, which was supported by a simple, yet perfect design, very tight direction and an excellent cast.

This one just got better as it went along. Three of the most unlikely characters create genuine tension, mystery and surprises.

Nice characters, well performed, but was too dependent on its offstage story and needed more of an onstage story to create the empathy needed with each character.

Eight Gen X Women
I’m too young to be a baby boomer and too old to be Gen X, but nothing ever changes about women talking about love, sex, men and babies. This was material that could have so easily been clich├ęd and boring, but it maintained a sense of humour and relevance and didn’t allow its characters to slip into stereotypes.

Jack Rabbit
Good performances and well written characters, but the writing seemed to concentrate too much on showing the similarities between the disparate group, rather than telling an engaging story about them.

Spring Session
Simply a funny, cleaver and original piece about Canberra, politics, picking up, work and dogs. (directed by Yvonne Virsik.)

Week One Wildcards

Miracleman – 1956
Possibly the most original staging I’ve seen in along time, but it didn’t work a venue with an audience on either side. A very funny and cleaver work about a 1956 comic book hero, but the staging didn’t allow for clear story telling and we never really got to know the characters. Right venue and a bit of a re-work will make this a winner.

Bound for Jerez
I really liked the concept of showing a woman’s changing perceptions from her latter years backwards to her to teens; each presented by a different actor. What didn’t work was telling the audience the end of her story in the first scene. We know that she never achieves her dreams, so are never allowed to hope for her on her backward journey. The writing also seemed to just be about women reacting to men. Of course, most writing is about relationships, but characters become more real when they are given a broader spectrum of experiences.

Black Dog
Well performed, with a surprising and fabulous twist. This piece shows the shame of depression and its external control on the sufferer. Where it did suffer was its concentration on the topic. It was a play about depression, rather than a play about Melanie – who suffered from depression. It needs to be her unique story to create the emotional impact that this work should have.

Is His Hers
Another physical theatre piece, with highly creative and engaging choreography that takes us on an exploration of what lies under the flannelette shirts of the ‘burbs.

North by East of Eden
Actors Studio versus Hitchcock……. What could have happened if James Dean had been cast by Alfred Hitchcock? It’s a great scenario and it a well written work, but the audience’s knowledge of the characters made it difficult to fully enjoy. In the end it wasn’t more than a set up for the final joke – which was funny – but could have been anyone – not specifically Dean and Hitchcock.

Mirrors and Smoke
Two actors face each other in a mirror. They are the same woman twenty years apart. This was another one that I really wanted to work, but it suffered the same problem as Bound for Jerez – we knew the end of her story, so how could we care what happened to her at the beginning? The flashback to her early marriage didn’t reveal anything new or offer any surprises.

Full Spectrum
Another work about women, but - finally - one not just about their relationships with men. Three women of very different incomes and “social standings” experience the loss of work. Written to show their changing expectations and show the unexpected similarity between having your AMEX declined and being forced into a homeless shelter. The direction allowed us to understand and care about each woman, without judging their lives or their choices. The writer also knows that drama comes when your characters face serious challenges and make unexpected choices. (Directed by Christina Cass.)

The Entrepreneur
Non-stop laughs, with broadly drawn characters that could easily appear on Kath and Kim. It would not have worked so well if the characters were not taken to the comedic extreme. The ending should have stopped at the punch line - the explanation of the final ironic joke (what was in the bag) wasn’t needed.

Celebrity is the New Bleak
One of the most original concepts I’ve seen. Magazines personified. It could have gone so wrong, but it went so right. Pure fun, topical, relevant to right now and the best plastic wrap joke ever.

Paradise Can
Acapella, pirates, bananas and disease! Another delightfully enjoyable and totally absurd work by another writer who understands that you have to do bad things to the characters you love in order to make good drama.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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