Short and Sweet – Ten minute theatre that reveals us to ourselves. (Theatre/Festival review)
King Street Theatre and Seymour Centre
8 January 2014 through to 31 March 2014
It was a journey that started with a burst into first world problems, traveled through a euthanasia clinic, rotating a few times around a loop of learned experience, stopping only briefly at the feet of a woman who becomes a widow by accident every time she marries – at least the last four times. Eventually one finds one has to ask the larger questions of life, and who better to turn to than a goldfish and a domestic parrot, surely life’s perfect observers, if not the best communicators, and in so doing examine what exactly what it is that children inherit from their parents, and how many times does lightning have to strike before you abandon reason and turn to superstition. These questions inevitably lead to the question of race, particularly race relations in Australia, and the important of keeping up appearances on the north shore no matter what form the apocalypse might take. Unfortunately, almost every question becomes political eventually and one might find themselves musing on what sort of influence Margaret Thatcher is exerting in heaven (or that other place) . As a death like hers can’t help but remind us of life and the politics of birth, the journey comes back to the very start and the question of the political ownership of fertility, the causes of life and death and ultimately, what do we do with the most grotesquely privileged with no table manners?
This may seem like the largest two hours (with a short interval of 15 minutes) that anyone can ever experience and in many ways that is accurate. However, its only one evening at the magnificent Short and Sweet festival, that largess small theatre festival in the world, currently manifest in its Sydney location, where lucky Sydney-siders can connect with the concept of the ten minute play until the final night on the 9th of March 2014. While Short and Sweet might be expanding into Dance, Cabaret, Music and other wonderful stage concepts, the one consistency is the ten minute format.
A ten minute piece of theatre is like a short story, it is its own creature, separate in form and function from the traditionally long play. Like a book of short stories, ten minute theatre is usually performed in a group of short plays, so the impact of the length lies in the writing and execution of the work, and the audiences willingness to go on a broad journey that will change many times. There is an obvious connection between the ‘sound bite’ nation we have become, and yet also not, because the profound intimacy of theatre remains. Therefore the short play is like an evolving conversation between our twitter-esque rapid communication and the overwhelming enormity of the physical presence of the other, something we are able to avoid temporarily on-line. The ten minute playwright can’t take time to expand, she must deal with a complex subject with immediately identifiable references that work in conjunction with audience expectations, and then play with those assumptions so that the audience can have a moment of revelation about themselves and their sublimated intentions. Imagery used in the eleven plays I was fortunate enough to be able to see in week five, that eventually led to a completely subverted perspective were brides in their dresses, a second generation Indian actor forced to constantly dress in turbans to get work, A health clinic where people go to die, the life of voiceless pets and what a pregnant woman really means. These and many other ideas we don’t even realise we carry with us, were overturned in short, sharp real images played out directly in front of me.
Ten minutes in time doesn’t mean reduction in quality of direction or performance, in fact often the challenge of creating impact falls on the actor and their ability to make an impression in a short time. Short and Sweet workshop plays, directors and performers so that the final product is the best possible execution of the play, and the best possible theatre experience for the audience. It ends up being an electrifying night of theatre, one that changed my own perspective on several key aspects of life I didn’t realise I hadn’t given any thought to. One of my favorite lines of the night occurred when a young Indian actor is applying at an agency, and the receptionist says “thanks, but we don’t need you. We already have an Indian.” My poor paraphrasing doesn’t do justice to the words penned, performed and directed in the original by the very talented Rajendra Moodley were a breath of fresh air, making the sorts of statements we go to the theatre to hear, that constant need to connect with articulate others who can reveal us to ourselves being perfectly satisfied.
The Short and Sweet Festival is one of the gems of local experience. If you have one in your city, be sure to make it to at least one of the nights. If you’re lucky enough to be in Sydney at the moment, get yourself along to the King Street theatre to catch one of the nights.