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Sydney

Jan 19, 2011

Short and sweet: the 10-minute plays vying for Sydney honours

Short+Sweet has become quite a brand. Like Toyota, which has Corolla, Camry, God-forsaken Kluger, and other models, Short+Sweet now has dance, cabaret, song and music

Lloyd Bradford Syke

Curtain Call Sydney critic

Short+Sweet has become quite a brand. Like Toyota, which has Corolla, Camry, God-forsaken Kluger, and other models, Short+Sweet now has dance, cabaret, song and music in its garage. And it doesn’t stop there. But theatre is how, why and where it started, a decade ago this year. The shadowy, enigmatic Mark Cleary presides, Assange-like, over Short+Sweet International, while serious-minded Superman doppelganger, Alex Broun, is festival director, in Sydney. Always has been; always will be, I expect.

I attended the last performance of S ‘n’ S Week 2, at Newtown Theatre. For years, I’ve been trying to penetrate the arcane mechanics of how it works, across two venues, but have yet to discern the complex mathematical matrix. Frankly, it would take Stephen Hawking to understand it. Suffice to say, there are over 800 artists involved, and that’s got to be a good thing.

In the case of certain plays, I’d challenge use of the word artists, but that’s to be churlish, especially given a showcase of over 180 plays. To quote, albeit unintelligibly, from the programme: “The top 110 plays are on for one week, over two months.” Are you thinking what I’m thinking? The top 110?! The top 10, sure. But how can one have a ‘top’ 110, out of 180? Still, pedants will enjoy such comprehensiveness and, if I’d the time, I’d probably join one of the judges who, if I have it right, has seen every performance since inception.

But don’t think you’re missing out, if you see the ‘top’ 110. Uh-uh. You can still see the rest, in ‘wildcard’ shows; 3pm, Saturdays. The top plays are chosen by ‘industry experts’ and popular vote. As to whether it’s, say, two cups of ‘industry experts’ for every one cup of popular vote, or some other arrangement, I’m at a loss. Frankly, given the complexities, I’m not even sure I care to know. For further details, I suggest you contact the Emeritus Professor at the Short+Sweet Academy of Arts and Sciences, in your state. And, of course, if you’re rather time-poor, but still desire to be engaged with the largest 10-minute play festival in the world (and, by the sound of it, the longest), you can just see the Gala Final on Saturday, March 12. Glad that’s off my chest.

Oh, one other thing to get off the chest before I enter into the nitty-gritty. Even in taking into account the economics of theatre production in a market as small as ours, it behoves Newtown Theatre, and Short+Sweet, related by marriage to Mark Cleary, to ensure airconditioning on these sultry summer days and nights. The redoubtable Mr Broun, to my surprise, readily recalled my chagrin on this subject on a previous occasion, when the sadistic Newtown Theatre habit of keeping a capacity crowd at bay in the unremediated swelter of its foyer was over-indulged, to the point where a near-fatality occurred (mine, or someone nearby, had I been kept waiting much longer). Actually, in a fit of pique rather than professionalism, I left at half-time, clamouring for ornages and first aid, unable to go on. It’s one thing to suffer for one’s art. it’s quite another to ask one’s audience to suffer with you or, Christ-like, for you.

The Doris Day Collection has been written about by yours truly, with high esteem, on a previous occasion, in these very pages, when it made its debut at Slide, so I was tickled that it should surface again. Written by American Robert Shaffron, directed by Dominic Stone and starring same, alongside Valentino Arico, it tells the tale of a gay couple, one of whom is unhealthily consumed by a acquisitive love of all things Doris and who has amassed the world’s biggest collection of Day souvenirs. Now, his obsession has taken on a new shape as, armed with chloroform, he plots to kidnap the 86-year-old saint, confessing same to his horrified partner. When the dog-loving Doris arrives at her favourite vegan restaurant, where Stone and Hank are holed-up, she takes a tumble, thanks to her inebriated disposition, and then, to the dismay of her would-be possessor, kicks a toy dog, at which her ardent admirer forsakes her, for Kim Novak. It’s an ingenious comic premise, in a well-timed exposition, almost impeccably realised by two fine actors, even if it seemed not to quite find its momentum on this outing.

A Letter For Kyle is an interesting idea, not quite so well-realised, by playwright and director, Peter Shelley, despite decent performances by Chris Lewis as The Postman, Brigid O’Sullivan as Mrs Craig and Richard Mason, as The Supervisor. Mrs. Craig’s bed-ridden, er, husband has written a letter to the appalling Kyle Sandilands. In truth, it’s a love letter, from her. Having second thoughts, she attempts to retrieve it from her postman, who’s kindly offered to post it for her. Fearing for his job, however, the postie refuses to defy the rules for which he’s paid to be a stickler, referring her to his supervisor, a consummately pedantic bureaucrat. It’s playful, cute, clever, but falls a little flat.

Queen Of De-Nial (it seems we have to have the pun spelt out for us) is “a love story between a woman and a pokie”. While many such relationships exist and are played out, often daily, in the ‘prosperity lounges’ of pubs and clubs across this wide, brown land, the bizarre-sounding plot proves to be just that. I found it largely unintelligible, roundly strange and totally tedious, despite Carmen Cuskelly(the writer)’s and Eliot Weekes’ creditable performances and Christopher Cherry’s likewise direction. frankly, the best part was Nigel Bardsley(or was it Kiran Pradhan)’s violin.

Mum, from Impulse Theatre Company, co-written by S. H. Wallace and J. Hibberd and directed by the former, starred Caroline Downs, in a cathartic confrontation with her deceased mother; a desperate bid to implement a deeply personal kind of truth and reconciliation commission. It made for a dramatically compelling piece of theatre. If it had a fault, it was that it seemed a little like a work-in-progress, a workshop, or excerpt. Still, if any of those likelihoods prevail, it bodes well for a more fulsome, extended work. Then again, there is a certain crisp succinctness and revelatory intensity in this short, bittersweet exposition.

Just A Date brought together the rather uncertain talents of Deborah Bradshaw (whose diction left something to be desired) and Tai Scrivener, directed by James Balian, in a distasteful contrivance by Con Nats, in which a married client falls in love with a hooker, who he’s been seeing regularly. It’s the same conceit at the heart of the ABC TV drama Rake, but the foible is allowed therein because the writing and performances are so luminous. Awful.

Dora’s Tears could easily have disappeared up its own pretentious Picassoesque portrait but, because it explained itself so articulately and redolently, even for the novice not versed or steeped in the life and art of French photographer, poet and painter Dora Maar, better known as muse and lover of Pablo, who famously featured in his Weeping Woman series. Her struggle to reclaim her own image and identity is charted here, knowingly and creatively, by writer Tilly Lunken, director Sadashivam Rao, and a cast including Mel Hume as Dora, Susan Ling Young (also credited with set and costume design) as Weeping Woman, Monica Kade as Weeping Woman With Hanky and Margaret Natalia Plag as Weeping Woman With Hat. It packs a lot of art into ten minutes and quite a punch.

The Real Story, by Bryan Niland, directed by Aarne Neeme, stood head-and-shoulders above anything else, bar one. With standout performances by Julie Hudspeth as the woman and, especially, Daniel Hunter, as the man (mother and son), and a devastating soundscape by Jason de Wilde, this ‘real’ story told an unrelenting tale of serial abuse, perpetrated in a linked chain of people and events. It had suspense, high drama, a menacing trajectory and predictable, yet still breathtaking, conclusion. If it surfaces as a screenplay for yet another dark, dour Aussie flick, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. Brilliant! One of the finest plays, of any length, on any stage, I’ve seen in quite a while.

Brrrrrring It! pits a hapless jobseeker, Cordelia Chang (played by Sandy Maestro) against a zealous employer, in Morris Watson (Matt Rose). Were it not for the familiar, ah, ring of telemarketing hucksterism and (presumably) Maestro’s capricious, inspired stroke of directorial genius in having Rose appear uber-weird, by dint of an affected, exaggerated British acting style that harks back to black-and-white, it might’ve proved utterly uninteresting, rather than entertaining, if shrill. Paris Herbert-Taylor wrote, on suspects, from some experience on one end of the phone or other.

Call Of The Wilde was my close runner-up for first class honours. Two gay penguins, Milo and Troy, suited-up, suitably, in tuxes and makeup, discuss and debate the trials and tribulations of their plight and all-too-public life, in a pen, at the zoo. Written by Peter Bloem and directed by Ian Gompertz, it stars (and I do mean stars) Blair Milan and Chris Smith who, for all intents and purposes are as effectively and inseparably penguins, at least for 10 minutes, as, say, Mike Myers is Shrek. This is a work of world-class comic originality. It’s gobsmacking to think it should turn up in the same company as the (dis)likes of Just A Date, or Queen Of De-Nial. A classic case of the sublime and the ridiculous. A gimmicky, misleading name though.

Almost equal second place, in my estimation, must go to Poetic Justice, written by Jackie Greenland and directed by Heath Wilder, brings both credit, but most of it has to go to Anthony Hunt, as unrequited punk-rocker Charlie Putrid. His supercharged, no-holds-barred, interactive, in-your-face characterisation proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, rumours of Sid Vicious’ death have been greatly exaggerated. And Tommy Hogan’s original music bolsters the momentum. Sensational.

In short and conclusion, the judges’ decisions seemed partly, or largely, inequitable, indefensible and preposterous; in denial of obvious and marked differences in the quality of productions. Industry experts, my arse. Or was it the popular vote that screwed (sorry, skewed) things? Whichever, the outcomes weren’t that sweet.

Still and all, you’ve got to hand it to S+S. As the festival director is happy to tell us, they said it wouldn’t, and couldn’t, last. it has. Ten years. Longer than many a prime minister. And with plenty of life left in it. Even if one or two plays should’ve been killed off, or mercifully euthanased, a lot earlier.

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One thought on “Short and sweet: the 10-minute plays vying for Sydney honours

  1. conats

    Dear Llyod, while many of us are rankled by the industry experts posing as judges, this is no different to hack journalists posing as reviewers, who allow their biases and s3xual preferences to rule their judgement. Did you notice that your top two both feature gay protagonists and did not reflect the judging or popular voting? The clapped out air conditioning must have fried a brain cell or two in there… I don’t mind having my play called ‘Awful’, as it is necessary to build a thick skin as an artist. Another reviewer, the respected David Kary called it ‘well crafted and poignant’, so I do take the good with the bad with a smile. But as a reviewer of film myself, I think reviewers, just like the judges, need to have some understanding of story, structure, sense of acting etc to qualify having opinions published, not just the ability to write florid, bitchy, biased nonsense. The ramblings about needing a degree to decipher what a top 110 means reveals more than just mathematical shortcomings with your writing and reviewing.