Short and Sweet – The Peoples’ Choice Showcase (Theatre Review)
Short and Sweet – People’s Choice
The Peoples Choice Showcase 4 and 5 April
Wildcard final 7 and 8 April
Gala Finals 27 and 28 April
The people’s choice award is always an interesting addition to the Short and Sweet calendar, as it is one of the rare opportunities for Sydney theatre makers to get a sense of what people buying tickets actually enjoyed seeing in the theatre. This is a different perspective from theatre spaces and production companies addressing subscription and ticket sales adherence that keeps theatre alive. It’s no secret that many theatre spaces in Sydney survive on their generous and enthusiastic support from subscriber lists – and bless those fantastic subscribers! However, when the general public see a selection of short productions they didn’t choose and (after they vote for family and friends) have to select their favourite from a list of productions they didn’t come to see, you have something very unique occurring in theatre. We tap into a thought process between theatre and her audience that was previously hidden.
Theatre can be a little like a protestant religious cult. It seeks constantly to convert the outsider while its primary currency is exclusivity. Short and Sweet as an institution cuts through this archetype, and focusses instead on creative communities working together to make pretty awesome and occasionally outstanding theatre together. Quality is decided by a judging panel but it is also determined by friends and family of one theatre maker taking the opportunity to say ‘good on you’ to another theatre maker. The idea of a fresh-off-the-street audience giving vibrant feedback to a theatre maker who chose to present their own project their way is an opportunity all ambitious theatre maker should crave.
This year the people’s choice awards are no different. Of the Twelve plays I saw last night, seven were comedies and five were dramas. Themes of interest included the influence on our lives by technology, female empowerment, moral obligations and the consequence of actions and relationships of many different kinds. Some of the plays had physical performance included. Most of the plays included racially diverse actors. Most of the plays were written by women, yet around half the roles were male, meaning we saw women writing male roles (something I would love to see more of at this time in history). When men wrote, they wrote about moral obligation and relationships. When women wrote it was often a good-natured laugh at themselves. That these plays were all chosen by a paying audience was particularly interesting.
As is always the case with Short and Sweet, some of the plays were a stand out. Socialite Networking, written by Nicky Denovan, directed by Olga Tamara and performed by Kristelle Zibara, Rebecca Smee and Anthony McShane plonks the idea of social networking deep into the roaring twenties to reveal the futility of our engagement. It’s brought alive with strong writing and very fine performances and is a marvelous way to open the twelve-play segment. Your Call is Important is another excellent mini production, written and directed by festival favourite Ruth Fingret in a clever infantilising Dr Seuss style poetry. It is performed by Alice Furze, Maria Karamblas and Jyotsna Sharma in sophisticated style. The poetry combines with real life accuracy to properly reveal the deep frustration of that all too reoccurring event, sitting on hold waiting for a bank to pick up a call.
Two plays offered an excellent opportunity for actors to perform physical pieces. Faeries written by Adam Szudrich and directed by Georgie Drewe used actors Zoe Sadler, Katherine Shead, Madaline Caban and Remington Adany to form trees and objects that support a beautiful Irish folk tale with a dark twist at the end. At the other end of the evening, Unlimited Service written by Nicky Denovan and directed by Tabatha Mangan is performed by Thu Nguyen and Jackson Blair-West in a modern-day clowning effort a-la John Cleese meets Charlie Chaplin. Performed with beautiful masks, this play and performance is one of the great highlights of the evening.
AI was of interest in several of the plays. In Boyfriend 2.0 written and directed by Pauline Turner, Eveline Schubert plays a woman who purchased an artificial man (It’s always nice to see man-bots rather than the stereotyped fem-bots) to replace a loutish boyfriend. The robot and the ex-partner are performed by Jack Douglas and Steven Tait respectively, with a lovely little twist on competitive masculinity occurring between the two men. Immediately following is the very witty Roger Reconstituted written and directed by Wendy Crew who calls forth great performances from Amanda Leiber and Luke Denny who in turn deliver her play with clarity and the kind of joy that is entirely infectious.
More serious productions include a truly beautiful affair by writer Mel Ryan titled What a Feminist Looks Like. This production explores what it means to three very different women to be a feminist. Direction here is by Wendy Winkler, who directs the writer along side Hayley Flowers and Kaitlin De Lacy in a strong expression of power and solidarity for female emancipation. Along side this beautiful expression comes Silent Accomplice by writer Suzy Wildz directed by Joy Roberts which stars Olga Olshansky and Peter David Aliison. A young man hears a scuffle next door and makes no attempt to intervene. The pair do not occur together in the show, but they are each powerful evocations of the more serious aspects of society and human natre. Also, a loving tribute to writer Sisir Kumar Das directed by Asim Das is brought to life through performers Smritish Ray, Sharmila Ray, Sabyasach Sarkar, Arunava Chaudhur and Sunandra Chaudhuri. This play, Just a Game details the lost lives of members of the family as the modern world separates us and prevents us from connecting.
A clever plot twist sums up Cook, written by Stephen Larkman and directed by Kathleen Hrayssi. This is a more traditional Short and Sweet style of production but with a twist that brings a freshness in. Performances are clever and convincing by Tom Harwood and Breanna Connor and Paolo Larossi. Another clever twist on a classic occurs with Robin Schlat’s Waiting for the Godots in which director Richard Kennett calls forth some of the best performances of the night from Alexandra Strehl and Steve Stojcevski as the couple waiting for their friends. Finally the delightful and enormously talented Debbie Neilson writes and performs in her play Not So Enchanted which is a fractured fairytale turned musical no less. She has a lovely voice and it is pure delight to hear her sing. She is well supported by director David Berry who also stars alongside her and the pair are supported by Greg Thornton.
I had a wonderful time at the Peoples Choice awards and was very happy to submit my vote for my preferences. Tonight, is the second performance of this final. The winners will be added to the gala night on the 27th and the 28th of April. Make sure you grab tickets and don’t miss one of Sydney’s most relaxed, fun and interesting nights of theatre.