SARAH BOOTHROYD reviews SHORT+SWEET Theatre Festival.
The space was intimate, the pre-show music was hip, and the audience was lively; conditions were ideal for the first night of Brisbane’s Short+Sweet 10-minute-theatre festival.
Each year, Short+Sweet seek submissions of scripts from around the world (this year they received about 650), select 30 of the best, and produce the chosen plays with local directors and actors. A series of heats judged by the audience pares the 30 plays down to 10, culminating in a gala final where a winning group is crowned.
Since making a cup of tea is about the most that I can achieve in 10 minutes, I arrived at the show curious about the potential of the 10-minute format. This year’s Top 10 programme consists mostly of comedies, with a couple of drama pieces to open and close the night. Nonetheless, the plays are varied: some are snappy sketches, others seem like previews of bigger things, and still others are complete stories, conceived with the short format in mind.
Half of Nothing, a relationship drama that explores infidelity from three different perspectives, is well-chosen as the opening play; although the story is nothing new, the choreographed movement and creative use of the (minimal) set is mesmerising — and a creative way of lending depth to the short format.
Two plays along, the programme plunges deep into sketch territory with Birgitte’s Story Time. Crass jokes, a boom box, and a dodgy German accent — all in a kindergarten setting — may not sound like universally appealing theatre, but it certainly had the audience in stitches. And, at the risk of compromising my secret audience vote, it ranks as one of my top three plays for the night.
The Rental Company is another standout comedy. This play seems like it could have been lifted straight from a comedy-gangster flick, but it earns its originality in writer Mark Cornell’s hilarious one-liners (“Well splash me with olive oil and toss me in a fucking salad”) and actor Ben Disteldorf’s comic portrayal of said gangster.
Short+Sweet is marketed to the “shrinking attention span”, but the best of these plays are those that make you forget the 10-minute limit — or wish it were longer. The Pond is one of these, and my favourite play of the night. Real estate, a disintegrating relationship, and a leaky water feature captivate the audience for 10 effortless minutes. Actors Emily Pollard and Sam Ryan are confident in their roles, and with only two chairs as props, they bounce their performances off one another with palpable chemistry. I could certainly imagine The Pond making a successful transition to a longer format.
I’m pleasantly surprised by the depths of drama and heights of comedy that these 10-minute plays achieve. However, it’s fair to say that the overall quality of the plays is as diverse as the pieces themselves; a potential downside to the 10-minute format is that it seems to attract clichéd storylines — after all, it’s difficult to build a truly original story in so few minutes. The most enjoyable plays redeem familiar storylines with a combination of unexpected humour and polished, creative performances.
Ultimately, Short+Sweet delivers what it promises: a fun night at the theatre, with something for everyone. I left with a grin on my face and plans to return next year.
SHORT+SWEET runs at The Loft (QUT Creative Industries) from Aug 14–19. www.shortandsweet.org
SARAH BOOTHROYD is a writer with an unfortunate aversion to self-promotion and (in the interests of full disclosure) a fear of dull and lengthy theatre. Read Sarah’s Short+Sweet preview here.