Short+Sweet Theatre 2016 – Season 2
13/09/2016 - 17/09/2016
TAKING OVER NEW ZEALAND TEN MINUTES AT A TIME
10 minutes to make a statement, 10 minutes to connect, 10 minutes with Short+Sweet Festival Auckland.
Short+Sweet is a performing arts festival that celebrates the 10 minute performance format through Theatre. Join us for a feast of different styles and subjects, with the next morsel only ever 10 minutes away!
Come salivate (sink your teeth into), participate (cast your vote), and debate the night’s bite sized showcases on at Auckland’s annual big-little Festival.
For more info: shortandsweet.org.nz
Social media: #shortsweetnz
“Well worth seeing” – Theatreview
“Varied, funny, clever, poignant and sweet” – Theatre Scene
The First Play
– by Ben M Creative
When the world was wide
– by Resplendent Productions
– by TAPAC
We Mean You No Harm Yet
– by little L productions
– by Junglee Theatre Company
Keep Calm and Carry the Crumb
– by Shadenfreude Company
The Lady and the Tyger
– Written by Trace Crawford, directed by Richard Green
– by Project 37
Alexander The Great
– Written by James C Ferguson, directed by Sananda Chatterjee
– Written by Hamish Russell, directed by Roberto Nascimento
Short+Sweet Theatre 2016 – Season 2
TAPAC, 100 Motions Road, Western Springs, Auckland
September 13 – 17, 7pm
Festival Passes available until September 10
(any 3 shows except shows on the same night, excluding Gala Finals)
$65 for three shows
Mostly sophisticated and well-crafted with often quite exceptional performances
Review by Lexie Matheson 19th Sep 2016
Week Two of Short+Sweet Theatre has quite a bit to live up to, given Week One set the bar high with some very competent productions. Personally, I feel the standard is even higher in Week Two but that’s just my opinion with one of the joys of this festival being that, because everyone gets a vote, every opinion counts.
First up in Wednesday’s programme of innovative and fascinating new work is the appropriately titled piece ‘The First Play’ (writer Ben Moore, choreographer Lemoe Mataitusi, produced by Ben M Creative). It’s a simple narrative about storytelling and as such it’s very effective indeed. The programme note tells us that while this is “probably not the true story of the first ever play” it just might be. It suggests that “as long as our species has had physical and verbal communication we have had storytelling” and, seated as I am in a darkened auditorium enjoying more new plays that I will then go home and write about, it bears witness to this fact. I’ve been in this exact same situation more than three hundred times in the last five years and on each occasion I’ve been engaged, in one form or another, with our theatre community’s obsession with evolving stories – and long may this continue.
The setting for ‘The First Play’ is simple: a few black boxes and some straightforward but creative props – a spear, a dead beast the body of which is formed from chicken wire and contains dozens of sheets of screwed up red paper representing the bloody entrails of the animal soon to be devoured. This is, after all, very basic stuff. There is no script in a conventional sense but merely a succession of orchestrated laughs, grunts, murmurs, rumbles, snorts and sighs accompanied by every percussive sound a body might make. In what seems like no time at all relationships develop, lives are lived, love happens, and one of the characters passes away. It’s funny, sad, scary and all performed at the rate of an exceptionally racy speed date.
The acting is fine, the story well told, the beast is devoured, second helpings had, and all in the shape of a good old fashioned beginning, middle and end narrative. It is a most enjoyable romp and well worth the effort if for no other reason – and there are many – than for its clever reliance on ritual, and ritual performed, because of the absence of formal spoken language, at a far deeper level than might often be experienced.
Next up is ‘Culture Clash’ (director Beth Kayes with Margaret-Mary Hollins, devised by the directors and cast, produced by TAPAC). ‘Culture Clash’ is anchored, as the name suggests, in the time-honoured world of Romeo and Juliet but in this case Romeo is from Spain and Juliet is from Thailand. Shakespeare never considered the potential of this pairing but if he had …
There is a rich unity in the storytelling as is often the case with devised work when it’s made with the guidance of sure hands and there are many moments of well-earned laughter. Juliet’s family, for example, won’t let her marry a foreigner because she must go to New Zealand to study. There is a plot-sustaining moon and some impressive slo-mo work. Overall the piece is entertaining and fun.
‘Deja Moo’ (writer and director Aman Bajaj, producer Junglee Theatre Company) is a satire based around the knowledge that ‘you have heard this bull before.’ It starts impressively with “Don’t you fucking hate Mondays?” and it’s downhill all the way from there. As satire goes it has its dark moments as it traverses its wild way through the idiosyncrasies of the corporate milieu and in particular the bull that permeates the world of marketing.
We hear that “Deja Moo is selling shit in 52 countries” and this is followed by the incessant repetition by the cast – and some onto it audience members – of the company mantra: “We are the shit, we sell the shit.” We learn that popping the balloon stimulates the frontal lobe and this is illustrated with, I suspect, minimal success. There is a chair that sucks the blood of the employee every time that person has the temerity to stand up and try to leave.
Mr Bubbles the Bear makes a special appearance and, as with all good satire, there is one character who sees through this emperor’s new clothes scenario and has a meltdown. It’s very impressive as meltdowns go and we end with a brief final scene where everyone dances in a world of red and green flashing lights. I have no idea what this coda means but it clearly works on a subliminal level and I will take the image of actor Raj Singh boogieing sexily, resplendent in red turban and business suit, to the grave, it is so good.
‘Sensitive Boy’ (writer Hamish Russell, director Roberto Nascimento) is the most complex piece in the first half and, as such, it presents the most challenges. It’s almost successful but not quite, leaving a feeling that, with a couple more rehearsals and a bit of script tweaking, this could be a real ripper.
Paula and Lizzie (Jennifer Freed and Kayleigh Haworth) are two young Mum’s picnicking at the beach and enjoying each other’s company while their small sons Ethan and Tom are playing together in the water. The conversation is somewhat tense and centres on Paula’s sensitive son Tom. Lizzie takes the long way round to suggesting that Tom may well be gay – “he cries, he’s sensitive” – while the audience makes the connection much sooner. Paula responds that Ethan shows all the “explicit signs of being a gangbanger” and just as this lovely day at the beach looks like turning to complete custard Paula asks Lizzie, “Do you have any wine?” and disaster is averted.
The concept is great, the acting is as good as you’d expect from these two fine practitioners and the script works most of the time but there is a sense of some discomfort as the actors place the boys in the water behind the audience and thereby limit their playing options. Having said that, I enjoy the work itself and the performances and fully accept that the content is, in itself, pretty tense stuff.
Ending the first half is my pick of the evening, ‘When the World Was Wide’ (writer and director Billie Staples, lyrics and vocals Billie Staples, music by Benny Staples, performed by Billie Staples, produced by Resplendent Productions): a poetic work containing expansive visuals, great imagery and excellent performance choices by Staples. The work is in ten parts and the actor eases us cleverly into both the concept and her style with an attractive immediacy that gives us opulent access to exactly where she sits emotionally at any moment on her journey.
The second stanza – ‘Grandmother (maternal)’ – allows us in with lines like “I feel like shimmer” and takes us, via her formalised delivery, to “I sat on the coffin. I swung my legs.” Having anchored herself on a stool at stage left, Staples moves to a light stand on stage right for ‘3. Love’, turns on the light and addresses the illumination as though it were her lover. Staples has a sublime understanding of pace and has us firmly in her grip for ‘4. Pain’. The music is excellent and she introduces us to “the come down bitch” before heading off to the light stand again for ‘5. Love’: a more raw exploration of the visceral and the erotic as the relationship has clearly evolved.
‘6. Grandmother (maternal)’ has us in an even darker place with “takes me back to when I didn’t know what death is” before we again visit the light stand for ‘7. Love’. I find myself impressed by Staples’ capacity to vary her delivery and pace within the formal delivery style she has chosen to tell us “everything outside my mind is a landmine”. In ‘8. Pain’ we gain encounter “the come down bitch” and she’s no nicer for a second viewing. ‘9. I am not yours’ reminds us of the fact “I am not yours, I am not yours” and the light on the stand is forever extinguished. ’10. Final Address’ asks simply, “What are your dreams made of, little girl?” and with a fleeting dance, Staples is gone.
We depart into the interval but Staples remains with me and has remained since. It is resonant work and I’ve liked it very much indeed.
‘Oriental Dreams’(writers Bon Virata and Fiona Chua, composer Fiona Chua, choreographer Angela Pan and produced by Project 37) opens the second half. We are told, “Writer’s block, sleepless nights, unfinished stories. What happens when we no longer know how to develop the characters and stories that we dream of and create in our minds? Do they simply disappear over time or will they continue to haunt us day and night, crossing the borders of dream and reality?” That’s one huge ask in a ten minute time frame but this excellent cast not only manage to bring it off but to do so with original songs, beautiful costumes, a cool set and sincerity.
Our writer is at the end of his wits trying to find a resolution for his work. He can’t decide whether it should be beauty, power or love that wins the day. He sleeps on the couch and we are signalled by an intermittently blinking blue light that something is about to happen in his sleep. The large cast swamps the stage filling it with Asian archetypes. They sing and circle him to the accompaniment of a delicate, piano played in a minor key.
There are hints of nostalgia but these are not fully realised. We learn that “the three of us, we are all the same” in the embodiment of his three conclusions but none wins out. Plays like this are hideously hard to end and while much of the work is satisfying the end is less so. I’m left with a bittersweet feel that lasts.
‘The Lady and the Tyger’ (writer Trace Crawford, director Richard Green) takes us to Paris in the springtime. The lights come up on a Kiwi backpacker reading from a book of verse. He is accosted, quite literally, by a Frenchwoman demanding, “Don’t touch me!” He hasn’t, so he replies, “I won’t,” to which she responds, “Why not?” It’s a conversation starter she admits eventually. “If I had said something boring would you have kept talking to me?” she asks.
He (Chris Rex) is charming and does a great line in happily confused, She (Sarah Benguigui) is cute and straightforward. We’re reminded that repulsion and attraction are ultimately the same. She talks about what love is and we know that these two spirits are touching. It’s a charming piece that negotiates all its potential pitfalls deftly via smart scripting and nimble acting. William Blake makes a couple of brief verbal forays into the lovefest and the play is better for them. I’m charmed out of my socks at the ending.
In an evening of well executed, imaginative work, ‘We Mean You No Harm Yet’ (writer Lisette de Jong who is credited with 90% of the work and Mark Scott who is allowed 4.5% [yes, I know that’s only 94.5% but, as the song says, “Who am I to disagree?”]; director Chris Anderson and produced by little L productions) is right up there with the best of them. On a quirky set we are introduced to a woman in 1950s air hostess attire (de Jong) and a man fitted out like Adam Ant (google him, he’s famous – played by Scott).
These costumes, worn by aliens who profess to mean us no harm, are supposed to make us feel at ease. For me, hers does but his doesn’t. It’s a cultural thing so don’t stress over it. Let’s just say they both look fabulous in detailed garb that would pass easily as the real thing. The script is funny and at times outrageous. The acting is excellent throughout and de Jong is superb. We are told that “there will be anal probing”, that “the rest of the world won’t notice of care if we go missing” – I can relate to that – and we are invited to think of them “as whales”. Humans like whales.
There are cheap jokes about Trump and lamingtons which seem to go down well and there is a bizarre and smartly performed laughter motif throughout. The work is complete, beautifully rehearsed and I can’t wait to see it again. De Jong is a star even in this tiny universe and her performance is alone worth the ticket price.
The penultimate work in the main programme is ‘Alexander the Great’ (writer James C Ferguson and director by Sananda Chatterjee). The programme tells us that the young conqueror is at the pinnacle of his success but that he has run into a bit of a road block. It ponders enigmatically “What will he stop at?” and the play proceeds to answer but with an equally inscrutable “Not much.”
Alexander appears in suitably conqueror like garb to be met by what appears to be a family equally suitably garbed as the soon to be conquered. Alexander postures in the manner of Hugh Grant at his most arrogant and asks ‘do you want to be conquered?’ The family politely – and in a terribly cucumber sandwiches and Darjeeling tea fashion – ‘no thank you’. What follows is reminiscent of everything good that was the great Monty Python.
‘Alexander the Great’ is tip-top, if somewhat lightweight, fun and features some very clever acting from the whole cast but never fear, I doubt this Alexander is going to invade anywhere, anytime soon.
The festival mainstream ends with Cally Castell and Holly Hudson’s delightfully crazy ‘Keep Calm and Carry the Crumb’ (director Damian Avery, produced by the Shadenfreude Company). The Short+Sweet website tells us that “Patty the Praying Mantis is a free woman. She’s got a new home, a new life and now she needs everyone to know just how fabulous she is.” We’re told “it’s time to meet the neighbours. Humans are complicated; insects are simple … r. One night, four bugs. Loosen up, it’s a party.”
On the surface ‘Keep Calm and Carry the Crumb’ is a simple allegory but dig down and there’s an awful lot going on. Falling between the stools of satire and parody, this partially devised piece about the complexities of social interactions and the need to be accepted is treacherously complex. The script is exceptionally well structured which is a plus but it’s the acting, and in particular that of Patty herself (Cally Castell), that carries the day. There is a punchline that is obvious from the beginning – she’s a mantis, after all – but when it is delivered it still comes as a shock because I have so engaged with the characters I’ve forgotten how they came to be where they are.
There are moments when the script is delightfully outrageous with lines like “I am a raging sexual being and I cannot be tamed.” It’s classy work that I would like to see again, in part because of its ensemble nature, but also for the sheer joy of Castell’s exquisite performance.
By now there is only Sunday evening’s finals to go. It would be easy to say that Short+Sweet gives opportunities to those new to the theatre to hone their developing skills, and there is a bit of that, but mostly the work is sophisticated and well-crafted with performances that are often quite exceptional. Frankly, I can’t wait to see what productions have got through to the finals on Sunday and to revisit some of the ones I have already seen. While this is my first Short+Sweet Theatre Festival, I can guarantee it won’t be my last.
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