REVIEW: Short + Sweet 2012 Week 3 (Stamp at The Edge)

Third Time’s a Charm [by James Wenley]

Short+Sweet + Week 3 = ???

It is the third week, of the third year of the Short+Sweet Theatre Festival in Auckland. Since its arrival at The Herald in 2010, the ten minute play festival has been firmly embraced by the Auckland Theatre community – emerging and experienced – and has gone from strength to strength. This is the first time Auckland has been able to produce a third week, and while I have missed much of the rest of this year’s festival, compared to the last two years this third week is especially brimming with talent, assurance and boldness. Made up of a 50/50 split of local and international plays, Auckland demonstrates they really understand what makes the festival work and how to utilise the 10 minute theatre form.

 You couldn’t get much bolder than Starving, Carving, Darling, an entirely unexpected Musical by Sally Tran and Tom Sainsbury that opened the second half. Set in an 80s retro-future dystopia, Violet Vickers is an anti-establishment girl who is happy the way she is, unlike her appearance obsessed friends (a chorus of three all dancing, all singing , all shoulder-padded girls!). It’s her fate however to be chosen as the vessel for a rich and aging socialite to transform her consciousness. The bizarre plot is matched by its bizarre music and costumes, a Musical by way of Repo the Genetic Opera. All in ten minutes…

I was very impressed with the entire package of On the Shelf, which vege-pomorphises a Carrot, Cauliflower, and Celeriac meeting on a Supermarket shelf, dreaming of what delicious meals they are destined for. The costumes are brilliantly vivid – Jessie Graham’s full orange body suit with green hair, Pheobe Borwick’s curvaceous cauliflower with prominent white frills, and Lauren Porteous’s decaying Gaga inspired Celereac. Celerac’s lot is that nobody knows what sort of vegetable she is, so is never chosen. Carrot and Cauliflower are far more optimistic. There’s some clever imagining of vegetable hierarchies (the best vegetables would end up in Delis or Farmers Markets, not Supermakets), and Porteous cynical humour adds a lot of bite.

Youandamoebaby also firmly sticks in the mind, an offering from Northland Youth Theatre, it tracks a ‘key moment in evolutionary theory’ as Amoebas become interested in one another. Performed by four young committed physical actors – Dean Atkins, Zara Skuse, Lutz Hamm and Rachel Boyd, all wearing white unitards – they work outstandingly as a connected team carrying, flipping, and moving through one another. For much of the play they are paired in male/female couplings, one the ‘mouthpiece’ for the Amoeba, the other a base clown who reveals what they are really after. It’s the perfect concept for Short+Sweet, a highly theatrical idea that at 10minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Sex was also on the minds of Grae Burton and Jess Holly Bates in Split for Tat, highly physical in a different way as a bickering couple, who can’t have sex without having an argument beforehand, try to get the upper hand on the other. While the lover’s barbs aren’t as witty as the script by US playwright Alex Dremann would like to think, Simon Clark’s high paced direction and the shameless performers make for a memorable, and wet, encounter.

A Small War, a Very Long  Way Away, which begins the show, is a political satire by Australian Angus Algie about an apathetic British Prime Minister (Michael Morris) who is told that Coventry has been wiped off the map. The characterisation never quite rings true – neither played for truth or pushed far enough into the realms of a Peter Sellars spoof, it plods along as he and his two advisors argue about what to do, but is redeemed by the very funny ending gag that the whole enterprise is designed to lead up to.

The night’s final play, Sauna, written by Lee Smith-Gibbons, is a black comedy about four women who get trapped in a sauna. Using the 10 minute economy to full effect, in very short strokes we feel like we know these characters played by Lee Smith-Gibbons, Jessica Joy Wood and Kura Forrester (brilliant!). Thomas Sainsbury’s direction really revels in the comedy of awkwardness.

The one piece that didn’t fit with the 3rd week’s strength was Stage Fright. Witten and performed by newcomers to the stage, it would have been a better fit in the Short+Sweet’s one-off Wildcard days. In real life, the four performers are a female barbershop quartet, and on the stage they perform a play about how currying two of their number’s stage fright. The audience is told that we must remain quiet and in darkness while they are bought in to sing, then we’ll reveal ourselves. The play might have worked better if we had been more actively encouraged to participate and therefore had more complicity in the scheme. Kindly, acting is not their forte, and unfortunately the snippets of song, their big talent, are all too brief.

Overall, amongst the sex and music, it was the simpler focussed plays that really worked best in this format.

Mother’s Milk by Eryn Wilson, a series of back and forth monologues between Dad (Bruce Hopkins) and Son (Kelson Henderson), beautifully realised a layered and very believable relationship between the two.

Speed Dating also revealed itself extremely well: Kura Forrester and Ria Vanderis play a series of different women in one man’s life – the high school sweetheart, the university girlfriend etc. Initially privileging the comedy, it eases into a poignant and very romantic tone when it becomes time to finally meet ‘the one’. For my money, the best written piece by Australia’s Tara Calaby.

But my favourite of the night was Imperfectly Frank by Seth Freeman (USA). Current society and old traditions collide in an unexpected way: an Indian couple want their son (Aman Bajaj) to have an arranged marriage… an arranged gay marriage. Thing is, he’s not. A well pitched and warm hearted examination of both institutions, it takes a new turn with the arrival of the intended’s sister.

Roll on next year!!

Short + Sweet 2012 is presented by Short + Sweet In association with STAMP at THE EDGE at The Herald Theatre until 6 October. Details see The Edge  

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe

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