14 December 2006

Short and Sweet 2006 Week 3 Top 10

Short and Sweet 2006 Week 3 Top 10
14 December 2006
The Arts Centre, Fairfax Theatre

Week three of Short and Sweet 2006 continues to surprise and show us of the intelligence, talent, originality and sheer guts of Melbourne’s theatre community.

This week’s top ten was not as strong as week one (sadly I had to miss week two), but the best pieces balanced out the weaker works and it was still a night to remind us how amazing a simple, well written, well directed, well performed play can be.

Many of this week’s plays were about issues of intolerance. These were the weakest works of the night. It is stories about complex people that make us care. These people can and should reflect the issues – but the issue should never be more important than the character and their journey. The most successful plays of the night were the ones about the quest for love. Does our dislike of conservatism ever overcome our desire for love and happiness?

Life as a Springer Show
The “Jerry Springer” host asks the audience to choose what happens to the non-descript latte drinking characters. We are given three options at appropriate places in the script. But this isn’t impro, so there is never the danger inherent in giving your audience some control. It would have worked much better if the characters actually cared about the scenarios given to them by the audience. A man reveals that he accidentally had sex with his mother the day before, but it worried him about as much as having low fat milk instead of no fat milk in his coffee. The outrageous revelations chosen by the audience had no impact on the characters or consequences to the rest of the story. So – we laughed – but we never cared what happened to them.

Terror Nullius
A couple dream that their unborn child has to undergo a test for its “aussie” values (just like anyone else who wants to enter and live in this country may soon have to do). It’s a great satirical joke which would have extended to a hilarious sketch, but it is not an interesting and dramatic ten minute story.

David Koresh, Timothy McVeigh and the Beard of Michael Rogers
Well staged and well performed, but a terribly predictable outcome and a script that got caught up in preaching about issues rather then telling a good story – and it was a good story. This was another work about conservative values in our society and their destructive consequences. Instead of painting such a black and white picture of us/young = right: them/old = wrong, I’d be much more interested in seeing the grey in between.

Billy Windlock
This was the first one person show I’ve seen in the festival. It was another play about intolerance, but this one told us an original and believable story that we cared about. The onstage and offstage characters were completely real and it evoked the sense of small town so well. My only concern is that it became the offstage character’s story, rather than the story of the woman talking to us from the stage. She’s so hurt and so angry that we want to know more about her. Your heart breaks for off stage Billy, but the audience’s empathy and sympathy is for the woman on the stage.

War Poems
Evocative, mysterious and beautifully staged. Two original, well presented characters, but they seemed to get lost in the dialogue and we were never sure whose story was being told. Whose journey was completed because of their meeting?

Uncomfortable Silences
This is what short play writing is all about. Our protagonist faces an obstacle and decision that is going to change his life. He is going to tell his best friend that he loves her and he knows he will lose the best friend he ever had – no matter how she reacts. He shows us their past interactions, but it is always his story, we are never confused by her story. His feelings resonate with everyone watching and we really care what happens to him. Directed, designed and performed to thoroughly engage and entertain us. This is one of my favourites of the festival.

Islands of the Good and Bad
Back to intolerance and racism. Characters created around (stereo) typical attitudes, rather than people who have these attitudes. This young girl had an amazing story to tell us, but we needed to get beyond the “racism is bad” message to empathise and care about her.

You Make Me
Well performed and a script that initially created mystery. We were very curious to know who the woman outside was, but lost interest when we knew she was being made up. As one character wasn’t real, we couldn’t hope for a future between them.

Sleepless Night
This was the second highlight of the night and some of the best writing I’ve seen in a short format. A complex, original and thoroughly engaging story, which never fell into the predictable and created empathy and emotion for everyone watching it. The supporting characters were brilliant, but never let us forget whose story we were watching. I’d vote it the best directed work of the festival so far, and maybe even the best ensemble cast.

It wasn’t the best thing ever written, but it certainly made us laugh. Great performances, great jokes and the best curtain call of the festival.

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