Short and Sweet Festival 2016 : Week One ~ a bunch of theatre reviews

shortandsweet

Short and Sweet Festival

TAPAC Theatre

Tuesday 06 September, 2016 

The ‘Short and Sweet Theatre Festival’ is such a good idea. It’s an opportunity for new performers, writers, technicians and stage crew to explore their craft in a safe and fulfilling environment.

It doesn’t stop there, however. For the more experienced theatre practitioner there are opportunities aplenty, too. All of this was evident on the first night of the ‘2016 Short and Sweet Theatre Festival being staged this year at TAPAC Theatre in Pt Chevalier.

A full schedule of ten short plays, each a maximum of ten minutes in length, builds to an excellent evening of imaginative, new theatre and it’s all completed in just under two hours to a three quarters full house. Efficiency is the order of the day and all credit must go to Festival Producer Sums Salvarajan, Artistic Curator Ahi Karunaharan and Technical Co-ordinator Michael Craven who have put this all together in a totally seamless fashion. It’s logistically impressive and runs to time – no mean feat as anyone who has put together a festival of this nature will affirm.

Not to be left out, audience members get to vote for their favourite production and all of this, plus input from anonymous judges who attend each performance, leads to a final night of what is bound to be excellent theatre. Next week a further ten plays are to be produced and, once Saturdays ‘Wildcard’ entries are presented and judging is complete, finalists will be chosen and performed on the final Sunday.

The ten plays selected for the Week One’s program run the gamut from farce to musical to drama and back, via poetry, to satire and absolute absurdity. The quality of the productions varies greatly as can, and should, be expected with a concept like this and with the opportunity to take risks in relative safety both possible and worthy of applause a number of shows respond positively to this extraordinary challenge. 

‘Beyond Four Walls’

Top (L to R): Andy Manning, Bronwyn Turei, Cally Castell

Bottom: Stephanie McKellar-Smith, Rutene Spooner
‘Beyond Four Walls’ (written by Cally Castell and Rutene Spooner, directed by Stephanie McKellar-Smith, musical direction by Andy Manning and produced by Fork and Spoon) is a sweet-natured and beautifully structured song-cycle themed around the idea of places we call home. Performed with extraordinary sensitivity by multi-instrumentalists Andy Manning, Bronwyn Turei, Cally Castell and Rutene Spooner, ‘Beyond Four Walls’ takes us deep into relationship country by means of appealing hooks such as ‘hello, are you there’ and ‘home is where the heart is’. A good Kiwi bloke tells us that this pub is more than a place just to drink beer and a man in a long distance relationship bemoans the fact that his Skype screen has frozen again and on the image of his love. Our Kiwi chap ends by restating his belief that this pub is not just a place, but actually a way of life. Having feared the worst for his distance relationship we discover that the love-sick chap has been offered an extension to his contract and that it is in fact he who puts his relationship further at risk as a result of his acceptance of this offer. It’s a fine piece of work with beautiful emotional checks and balances and only occasionally over-loud keyboards cause a distraction blurring some of the lyrics but this is simply a practical matter and can be easily fixed.

‘Slow Dating’

Above L to R: Julie Collis, Adam Szudrich and Katie Burson

Next comes ‘Slow Dating’ (written by Adam Szudrich and directed by Katie Burson), a delicious and precisely presented solo performance by Julie Collis that takes us into the treacherous waters of speed dating for older people. Slow dating is one of those plays that takes you places you don’t necessarily want to go and that leave you with a sense of disquiet that you cannot fully comprehend. The informative program note describes the play perfectly when it says it ‘explores the beauty of holding on and the vulnerability of letting go’. Collis’s performance is exquisite and reminiscent of Tennessee Williams ‘The Glass Menagerie’ in its bittersweet reflection on loneliness. Collis’s ‘gentleman caller’ is a somewhat outrageous fellow and exactly what this grieving older woman needs. He is funny and charming and it’s no surprise that he sweeps her off her feet with what seems a minimum amount of effort. ‘Slow Dating’ is a finely nuanced script fully realised by fine acting and sensitive direction. In an evening of excellent and evocative one-liners ‘visit me, love me, let me go’ is perhaps the very best of all.

‘March of Progress’

Above L to R: Sananda Chatterjee and Raj Singh; below: Mayen Mehta,

‘March of Progress’ (written by Mayen Mehta, co-directed by Mayen Mehta and Sananda Chatterjee and produced by Naht Sky Theatre Company) is a touching story of disconnection. A scientist son separates himself from his terminally ill father so he can present his exciting new findings at a conference, findings that, given time, may save his father’s life. Sadly time is not on their side and we experience the pain that goes hand-in-hand with the loss of a parent. With some small amount of work this already excellent script could be refined to ensure it achieves maximum affect. Raj Singh is excellent as the dying father and Mayen Mehta is touching as the dutiful, if disconnected, son. Singh’s ‘not everyone can be saved’ hits home as a universal truth.

‘Five in the Afternoon’ is a large cast work based on poems by iconic Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. Produced by Marvellous Theatre Group Inc and directed by Marion Ortiz it’s fair to say that the program note sums the work up best: ‘Ignacio is the best and most famous matador of Seville. Handsome, brave, strong and powerful. Just like the Bulls he challenges every week. But once he falls in love with a married woman he becomes the architect of his own tragedy.’ Herein lies both the success and the challenge of this work. There is no shortage of passion from this delightful cast of somewhat older actors but Lorca is tricky and total success lies just beyond their reach. Costuming is superb and we are left in no doubt as to the intentions of every character portrayed. Our matador embodies ‘there is no sword like his sword’ to the nth degree and his mistress is equal in ardour to her swain. The inevitable tragedy is predictable but comes as no less a surprise because of this. There are moments of sublime good humour with the denouement of ‘him or me’ proving supremely funny.

‘Dragonflies’

From left: Hannah Botha, Alex Walker and Jesse Hilford

Completing the first half is ‘Dragonflies’ (written by Christine Foster, directed by Jesse Hilford). Again, the excellent program notes give us a hint of what is to come. ‘A young tech whiz has come up with a brilliant app which detects the presence of supernatural entities, but manages to miss what’s right in front of her own eyes.’ This tight and effective script takes us on a journey that contains more twists and turns than seem inhumanly possible within the 10 minute time frame. Performances by Alex Walker and Hannah Botha are subtle and keep hidden the horror of the ending which came as a real shock to me but which my son assures me he saw coming. There are patches of existential writing that are quiet superb and the ending is, in my view, exceptional.

Part Two also begins with a song, in this case the opening number from a new work ‘Match: The Musical’

From left: Top Row: Callum Blackmore, Georgina Silk, Second Row: Gary Hofman

Third Row: James Wenley, Mark Bradley Bottom Row: Tom Grut

James Wenley and Callum Blackmore entitled ‘Match: The Musical’. Produced by Theatre of Love, we find Steve and Sarah out for dinner. Steve thinks he’s ready to settle down but Sarah has other ideas. They’ve been together for three years and Sarah wishes to spread her wings. What starts out as an anniversary dinner quickly dissolves into a long and protracted squabble during which a ring is produced but never profered. There is an ever-present waiter whose never-ending good humour no doubt adds to their frustration but the song seems over-long for its content and risks testing the patience of the audience. Despite this misgiving the performances of Georgina Silk, Tom Grut and Gary Hofman are uniformly good as is the piano playing of Mark Bradley. With a delicate nod to Sondheim – never a bad thing – and some judicious trimming, ‘Match – The Beginning’ shows tremendous promise and I look forward to a more detailed outing in the not too distant future. 

‘93%’

Left to Right: Cherie Moore, Hamish Annan

‘93%’ is unashamedly gay. Written and performed by Hamish Annan and directed by Cherie Moore the program note again says it all when it begins ‘when you want to say “no, no thank you” to life’s oncoming challenges they always seem to have a way of sticking around’. Never a truer thing was said about coming out because it simply never stops happening and it never goes away. Hamish – that Annan’s character’s name too – is in that foggy space where he doesn’t want to come out but a stronger force than even his keeps saying ‘do it, go on, stop this denial’ and of course he does and we’re all glad of it – Hamish included. It’s an excellent script and Annan is beautifully directed as he flops and flounces his way through a dozen or more finally drawn characters who range from campy stereotypes to roughhewn reality. ‘93%’ is extremely good work on every level and I did quite a degree of soul-searching before agreeing with myself that this was my pick for best production of the evening. It resonated with me on both human and theatrical levels and I’m thrilled to say that a whole bunch of straight, cisgender people agreed with my choice. ‘93%’ is funny, craftsman-like and rich in skills and charm.

‘Triangles’

Top Left to Right: Ashton Brown, Imogen Miller

Bottom:Louise Beuvink  

Next up was ‘Triangles’ which was perhaps the most risky – and most flawed – work of the evening. This isn’t to say it was bad, far from it, it’s a work in progress and a lot of progress has been made. There’s more needed but if writer Ashton Brown sees this as a good first outing for his ingenious black comedy and explores ways in which he can make the plot less obvious without losing its exciting Orton-esque qualities then he might well have a winner on his hands. The cast of Brown himself, Imogen Miller and Louise Beuvink are well suited to their roles and drive the plot forward to another surprise conclusion.

Like ‘Triangles’, ‘Shango’ needs work. Written by Marion Ortiz and Natasha Diaz, performed by the writers and directed by Ortiz, it’s possible that the production lacked an objective outside eye. Both performers are capable and created credible characters – the God of thunder and virility and the Yaruba religion’s god mother are a great couple – but the through-line of the text is often blurred and sometimes repetitive leaving the audience more than a little bemused. Ortiz and Diaz are likeable performers whose skill in physical theatre is evident and a few refinements could easily make this a most attractive work.

‘Who’s the Mother?’

Below Top: Adam Spedding, Hadley Taylor

Bottom: Brayden Jeffrey

Ending the evening in slot number ten is a wonderfully satiric work by Adam Spedding, Brayden Jeffrey, Hadley Taylor and Bernie Voice entitled ‘Who’s the Mother?’ The programme gives little away informing us only that ‘three people sit in the maternity waiting room’. Spedding’s direction draws every unsubtle nuance from this extremely funny and very black script. In short, we find ourselves in a maternity waiting room alright, but it’s three men we discover there in various stages of pregnancy with not a woman in sight. The ten minute journey is riotously funny, darkly satiric and exposes us, whether we like it or not, to what the world would look like if men were the ones who carried and bore children. It’s not pretty but it does hold a mirror up to the uniquely female experiences of pregnancy and childbirth and allows us to view these precious experiences through a traditional male lens. ‘Who’s the Mother’ is rough theatre but it hits the nail on the head of real satire. It hammers home its points but at no point is it anti-woman or anti-feminist. It’s the purist of pure satire and the audience responded in kind with gut-wrenching laughter and gasps of incredulity. It’s an eight and a half out of ten show and well worth the effort.

All-in-all, week one of ‘Short and Sweet’ is a mixed bag and rather like delving into a bucket of liquorice all-sorts. I have my favourites and you’ll no doubt have yours but we’ll both end up satisfied because each work has potential that was realised at least to some degree or other. For me and my whanau, ‘93%’ won the day but ‘Beyond Four Walls’, ‘Slow Dating’ and Dragonflies’ were not far behind. We’ll do it again next week and then it’ll be wildcard performances and the finals. Frankly, I can’t wait.

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