Review: Short + Sweet Theatre – Top 30 Week 3

I think out of all the heats, this group served up the most diverse selection of plays.  Covering a range of styles and genres from interpretative dance to musicals to good ol’ comedy, this third and final group of the Top 30 really was a nice eclectic spread – just the way I like it!

The evening starts off with A Small War, A Very Long Way Away by Angus Algie, a cheeky little piece that pokes fun at the British government.  Michael Morris is back (you may remember him as the excitable younger brother of Tchaikovsky in wildcard entry, How About Cannons?), this time as the overly easygoing and incompetent Prime Minister who has to address the nation in the wake of a recent nuclear attack.  He is disconcertingly calm and unaffected by the news much to the chagrin of his two advisers.  While political satire is nothing new and I thought the story traveled a bit flat in the first half, the actors had great stage presence and there were some really good bursts of comedy peppered throughout the narrative.

Northland Youth Theatre may be the young ‘uns in the competition but they certainly proved that they can play with the big boys!  Through interpretative dance and a touch of humor, Youandamoebababy‘s creative take on evolution hit the nail on the head on all accounts – it was well choreographed, well written and well performed.  The cast of four made full use of the stage and I was very impressed by how well they all moved, both individually and together.  Transbury’s Starving, Carving, Darling in the second half also put a creative spin on a commonly debated on topic – the beauty myth.  I thought it was an interesting concept, I loved the dark twist and the musical element but unfortunately there were issues with the execution.  I think it was a mistake to have the main actors perform with a mic as the constant echos and feedback were distracting and just disrupted the flow and enjoyment of the story.

Speed Dating by Tara Calaby and Mother’s Milk by Funny Thing Productions slowed things down a notch and were definitely more script heavy than action heavy.  Having said that, I thought these two plays were both excellently written and their characters brought to life from really polished performances by the actors.  Speed Dating sees two actors alternating between different characters in a speed dating scenario.  Their “pitch” to their prospective partners is mostly of a cynical, pessimistic and sometimes even self-deprecating nature but at the close you find yourself unexpectedly feeling none of those things.  Also a two hander, Mother’s Milk had quite a mammoth task of getting us to connect with two characters within the mere ten-minute time frame and I think they were nearly there.  The father and son are well cast and performed their monologues in a way that is candid and personable which I liked.

Checkmate Productions’ STAGE FRIGHT had an interesting premise – a barbershop quartet are split in half when two have stage fright and are unable to perform until the other two run through a process called “systematic desensitization” which involve some rather odd non-scary steps that help with phobias.  I liked the quasi audience interaction element to it (very similar to A Cultural Hierarchy from the first group of Wildcards) and the script was engaging and flowed fairly well with some great one-liners but I did think it fell short slightly with the overly exaggerated performance by the cast.

Also featuring a cast of four ladies was the closing play Sauna penned by Lee Smith-Gibbons.  When three friends (plus a stranger) are trapped in a sauna, girly gossip soon turns into a shocking confession which then leads to one of them wanting answers to the ambiguity that (she feels) exists in their friendship.  As the heat rises, their friendship further unravels.  I thought the story arc was a bit weak; it started off slow, picked up a little in the middle but then fizzled out at the end.  What saved it though was Bron who was the star of the story, hands down.  Played by Kura Forrester, she brought great charisma and comedy to the character.

In contrast I thought Spit For Tat by American playwright Alex Dremann had an excellent story arc and great pacing which worked perfectly as a ten-minute piece.  Greg and Bernadette are a temperamental couple who use arguing and insulting each other as a form of foreplay.  The narrative is a vicious cycle of getting mad to getting turned on and then back again but thanks to the clever writing and brilliant acting, it doesn’t feel repetitive at all but incredibly entertaining.  I was particularly impressed by Jess Holly Bates’ performance; there were a lot of subtle non-verbal things she did that were just really effective and apt to the situation.

One of my top favorites of the night was Imperfectly Frank by Seth Freeman, a charming slice-of-life comedy about an Indian family and the age old tradition of arranged marriage – but with a twist.  This story takes the common preconceived notion that Indians are conservative and throws it out the window.  Franklin is being pushed in to not only an arranged marriage but in to a relationship with another man; his insistence to his parents that he is straight only falls on death ears.  Wonderful feel-good story with the perfect ending and performed by a great cast.

As much as I really enjoyed Spit For Tat and Imperfectly Frank, no other play had me completely hooked and laughing as much as Michelle Wallace’s On The Shelf.  This was possibly the easiest vote for favorite play out of all the heats.  The story is set in the supermarket, specifically in the vegetable section, where Carrot is making a sales pitch to passing shoppers in the hopes of getting picked.  She is soon joined by a foxy Scottish Marilyn Monroe-esque Cauliflower and together they fantasize about being chopped, sautéed and made into a delicious dish.  Their hopes and dreams are shattered by a sardonic and bitter French Celeriac who gives them an unwelcome wake up call.  Great storyline, absolutely hilarious (the Celeriac had the best lines!) and very entertaining.

A huge WELL DONE to the Top 30 and the Wildcards!  It has been a fun couple of weeks but all good things must come to an end, sadly.  Looking forward to seeing the Judges’ Choices and People’s Choices perform again at the Gala Final this Sunday!

The Whimsical Banana rates Top 30 Week 3:
A Small War, A Very Long Way Away: 3/5 bananas
Youandamoebaby: 4/5 bananas
Speed Dating: 3/5 bananas
STAGE FRIGHT: 3/5 bananas
On The Shelf: 5/5 bananas
Starving, Carving, Darling: 2/5 bananas
Imperfectly Frank: 5/5 bananas
Spit For Tat: 5/5 bananas
Mother’s Milk: 3/5 bananas
Sauna: 3/5 bananas

Short+Sweet Theatre is playing at The Herald Theatre and is presented by The EDGE in association with STAMP.  For more information, dates and tickets click here.

For the full programme, cast and play information, check out the Short + Sweet blog.

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Review: Short + Sweet Theatre – Wildcard Week 2

Just like the first group of Wildcards, this second group thoroughly impressed and entertained.  Their message was clear: they may not have made it in to the top 30 but they can still give them a run for their money!

Replay by Angie Farrow set the bar high, kicking things off on a great note.  A lover’s spat between Bethany and Jeremiah becomes a twisted cycle of voluntary “do overs” when repeated attempts at manslaughter keeps getting thwarted.  I thoroughly enjoyed the humor as well as the comical humping on stage…albeit it felt a tad awkward with kids in the crowd!  I liked the clever play and inventive spin on Groundhog Day and also the way the other characters made their entrance into the story.

Matapihi’s Pëhanga (Pressure) showcases another couple in a domestic dispute but in a more serious light.  I thought Rangi Rangitukunoa and Roimata Fox’s performances were really excellent – moving, heartfelt and passionate.  While it is definitely more melodrama than comedy, I appreciated the humor that was peppered throughout the dialogue; kept things from getting too intense.

I thought Theatre of Love’s Moaner was clever, witty and an original way of telling a story that has been told before.  (As many would already know, the idea of talking paintings has already been explored by one infamous series about a certain boy wizard…)  Posing as paintings, there wasn’t much in terms of movement but how the story came to life was through the conversations between the works of art.  The script was very well-crafted and the actors did a brilliant job executing it, delivering their lines full of attitude and personality.  I especially liked James Wenley’s portrayal of the iconic sculpture of David by Michelangelo.

Part monologue, part comedy of errors with a dark twist is probably the best way I can think of to describe Coma Sutra by Kate Toon.  We meet Matt who introduces himself to the audience directly, breaking the Fourth Wall, before proceeding to tell us his woeful story of how he came to be where he is today.  Tim McPoland is perfectly cast as Matt and I don’t know if his disturbingly gaunt physique was intentional or not but it did actually enhance the performance.  Personally I didn’t think Suze needed to be there; it worked perfectly fine as a one man show.

The two plays that left me a bit cold and confused were MigHT-i Theatre’s Mirage and Just Desserts by Kelley Baker in the second half.  With Mirage, I did like the irony of the migrated family being more faithful to the Indian culture and traditions than the family who are actually living in India.  The concept was definitely there and had great potential, it was just not executed as well as it could have been.  The performance itself was a bit rough around the edges with some obvious mistakes and continuity issues which was most unfortunate.

Similarly I liked the premise of the importance of the last meal for men on death row in Just Desserts; fairly heavy subject matter to cover within ten minutes but one which I thought overall was done admirably. The cast were great and gave convincing performances but for me at times I found myself struggling to follow what was going on.  I felt the additional actors only served to cloud and clutter the narrative; I think it would have been much “cleaner” to leave it as just a heated conversation between the prison cook and his new employer.

It was a tight race for favorite play between Sexy Bird’s The Psychologist, The Soldier’s Heart and the Feathered Girl by Le Petit Workshop and the closing play, Slick Dame by Kay Poiro.  The Psychologist was great fun – Kate Vox was incredible as the unconventional and inappropriate psychologist with the only one diagnosis and one way to “cure” it.  I also enjoyed James Crompton’s performance as the nerdy and awkward George Phibbs; his facial expressions and body language brought a great element of comedy to the story.  The whimsical sitar-like music was incredibly apt and complemented the narrative perfectly.

Slick Dame had me sold from the moment I saw fedoras, heard the music and picked out the shadowy patterns projected on the wall to be the silhouette of buildings – I am a big fan of the 40s era and film noir!  “Private Dick” and the Femme Fatale were very “cookie-cutter” noir characters and performed authentically by the two actors.  I thought the  use of the coat rack to play additional characters was a creative touch and that twist at the end was absolutely genius.

I was very tempted to place a very biased vote for Slick Dame just based on my love for the genre alone.  However there was one thing that did let it down unfortunately – in my opinion, the story would have worked a bit better if it were a couple of minutes shorter.  Even though the pay-off was beyond superb, I felt that at times it dragged a little in the journey to get there.

In the end, my favorite play was a no brainer, really.  The Soldier’s Heart and the Feathered Girl got my vote simply because out of all the other plays, I felt it did the most within the allotted time.  This fairytale love story had a very Disney-esque quality to it which I loved but what gave it that extra bit of magic was the creative way in which they conveyed the story.  Incorporating puppets, a spot of shadow play as well as using scarves was a brilliant move and brought the play to a whole new level.

A massive well done to all the Wildcards across both weeks.  It truly has been a pleasure; in my eyes you all are part of the “top 50” rather than the Wildcards because in all honesty for many of the plays, there really wasn’t much difference in quality or standard between the two categories!

The Whimsical Banana rates Week 2 of the Wildcards:
Replay: 4/5 bananas
The Soldier’s Heart and the Feathered Girl: 5/5 bananas
Coma Sutra: 3/5 bananas
Mirage: 2/5 bananas
Moaner: 4/5 bananas
Pëhanga (Pressure): 3/5 bananas
Just Desserts: 2/5 bananas
The Psychologist: 5/5 bananas
Slick Dame: 5/5 bananas

Short+Sweet Theatre is playing at The Herald Theatre and is presented by The EDGE in association with STAMP. For more information, dates and tickets click here.

For the full programme, cast and play information, check out the Short + Sweet blog.

Review: Short + Sweet Theatre – Top 30 Week 2

This week at Short + Sweet Theatre, it was yet another eclectic selection of quickfire plays for me to sink my teeth in to.  With each round, I’ve found the decision on which play to vote as my favorite becoming increasingly harder; I definitely don’t envy the judges’ position!

The evening starts off with a deceptively light-hearted play, The Gospel According to Bowser penned by Dan Borengasser.  As the title indicates, the play starts off as a Gospel-esque monologue by an unlikely prophet – the family dog, Bowser.  A loyal disciple to the “Omnipotent Master”, his beliefs are called into question and challenged on arrival of a new feline addition to the family.  They debate over their owners and the “futility of existence” before a pesky rodent shows up to settle the matter.  The play is refreshing, very cleverly written and I thought the two actors who played the family pets did a fantastic job, especially with nailing the mannerisms of the animals.

I found Monetum Productions’ The Gift to be a very uncomfortable experience – but not in a bad way!  It appears to be an ordinary day but when a man accepts a package from a courier, the situation quickly turns into a terrifying hostage situation.  The boundaries for on-stage torture is pushed to the limit and I thought the build up of dread and unease was very well executed.  The Wedding by Nocturne Theatre was also a somewhat uncomfortable experience but unfortunately not in a good way.  A couple are in a motel room after getting hitched though the ceremony was “more a stag do than a wedding”.  We watch on as their relationship unravels and while the actors played their characters well where it comes undone is the time shifts that occur.  I found it to be confusing and just didn’t work within the ten-minute format.

Two more plays that tackle relationships and romance are The Break Up by Glen Pickering and Renée Boyer-Willisson’s serendipitous tale The Smell of Rain.  James and his friends are at what I assume is some costume party (it is never explained why the characters are dressed the way they are) and the entirety of the plot raises the question: how much would you do for an extremely reasonably priced super king sized bed?  The Break Up is absolutely hysterical with excellent pacing and great comedic storytelling made all the more ridiculous with a furry elephant costume.  The Smell of Rain also raises a question – several actually – when Serenity meets “Mikey” by chance at a cafe on a rainy day and she conveniently decides it’s “share your problems with a stranger day”.  A rather quirky would-be/could-be love story very cleverly constructed and brilliantly executed.   I loved that Gingerbread man skit!

The best performance of the night for me was The South Afreakins by the Stampy Theatre Company.  The story kicks off backstage – we hear a couple with very distinctive South African accents conversing.  Only when Robyn Paterson comes to the stage and takes a seat do we quickly realize that she is both husband and wife.  The narrative had a well-paced arc with a good dose of humor while also having a strong message of home and identity embedded into it.  It is very much a one-woman show with Paterson wearing all hats in this production – playwright, director and actor.  I was incredibly impressed by how she embodied both Gordon and Helene; the way she swiftly alternated between both characters, skillfully changing voices and posture – it was just a flawless performance.

Boys’ Outing by Winter’s Collective was another well acted performance, in my opinion.  The entire plot takes place at a bus stop and centers on a conversation between two schoolmates as they wait for the bus.  Where the story lacks in action and movement, it more than makes up for it in performance.  Graham Candy and Ryan Dulieu do a commendable job playing Ben and Rich.  The chemistry and camaraderie between these two boys is evident which made the banter between them incredibly candid, all the more believable and enjoyable to watch.  A story with bucket loads of humor but also one with bite.  It tackles an issue that some would find uncomfortable to discuss but I thought whoever wrote it did an exceptional job at broaching the topic in a more accessible and “user friendly” way.

My vote for favorite play came down to Josh Hartwell’s A Different Client and the closing play, The Guilt Sniffer by Team M&M Productions.  Darren Taniue as the flamboyant “brown and down” call boy was a delight to watch and I absolutely loved the way the story unfolded and built up to the twist at the end.  That climax where everything was revealed and that chilling ending is something that I will not soon forget as it was just so unexpected and so incredibly moving.  I cannot resist a good detective story though and I thought The Guilt Sniffer had an interesting storyline, well-timed comedic moments and overall was just incredibly entertaining.  The narrative was well-constructed and made the most of the ten-minute time frame.  A great spoof and a creative take on the classic whodunit story.

So that’s two groups done, one more to go!  Looking forward to what the final groups in the top 30 have to offer.

The Whimsical Banana rates Top 30 Week 2:
The Gospel According to Bowser: 4/5 bananas
The Gift: 3/5 bananas
The South Afreakins: 5/5 bananas
Boys’ Outing: 4/5 bananas
The Break Up: 3/5 bananas
The Wedding: 2/5 bananas
A Different Client: 5/5 bananas
The Smell of Rain: 3/5 bananas
The Guilt Sniffer: 5/5 bananas

Short+Sweet Theatre is playing at The Herald Theatre and is presented by The EDGE in association with STAMP. For more information, dates and tickets click here.

For the full programme, cast and play information, check out the Short + Sweet blog.

Review: Short + Sweet Theatre – Wildcard Week 1

After watching the first group of Wildcards perform, I don’t envy the people that had to decide who made the top 30 and who didn’t as from what I’ve seen so far, the talent pool this year really is just incredible.  While there were only a few plays that really stood out for me in the first top 30 group, I found this Wildcard group to be a much closer race.

The show kicks off on a sombre note with Softly as in a Morning Sunrise by Robert Barr.  With no props, the pressure was on the cast to fill the empty space with their performance, sell the story and keep the audience engaged.  I thought it was almost there; the two political prisoners were performed well by the two actors and the end was quite clever, I just think the story arc did not quite work within the ten-minute time frame.  Similarly I felt Henrietta Bollinger’s Bedtime Monsters had pacing issues too.  I liked the fly-on-the-wall feel the story had but for me, the pay-off at the end did not quite match the build up.  Coincidentally these two plays were the only ones in the bunch to not have a director on board which is perhaps the missing link that was needed.

A Cultural Hierarchy by Curious Theatre was my favorite play in the first half.  It begins in the darkness before we meet “best friend beings” Seb and Angie who are there to take us on a tour of Pastiche gallery.  After informing us of a few housekeeping rules notably the “no touching policy” (demonstration included), the tour very quickly becomes one of escalating inappropriate behavior before complete mayhem is unleashed.  The level of panache and comedy was well balanced and executed and I absolutely loved the way the story breaks the Fourth Wall through their faux interaction with the audience.

I really enjoyed David Vazdauskas’ How About Cannons? which took us back in time in a supposed moment in history where we see that even the greats suffer from writer’s block.  While clearly meant to be taken with a grain of salt, the two actors did bring a level of authenticity to their performance.  Suddenly it didn’t seem all that far-fetched and perfectly plausible that Tchaikovsky would have argued with his brother about whether the 1812 Overture should be a celebration or cattle call.  I thought Michael Morris brought great energy to the stage as the excitable younger brother.

Simple in concept but creative in execution, Riding the Red by Grace de Morgan tackled the thing that everyone can identify with on some level – love.  Like the first play, there were no props, but the story is brought to life through a spot of mime and an entertaining and animated monologue where two individuals ponder their past failed conquests.  The ending epitomizes the very theme of this festival – short and sweet – and Queen’s Somebody to Love could not have been a more perfect song to follow after!  In contrast Michelle Macwhirter’s For Our Kind transports us to the year 2032 after a virus outbreak and explores love but what it becomes when the human race is in survival mode.  I liked the twist on the “first date” in the wake of a global disaster but the ending left me a bit cold.

I was pretty much decided that A Cultural Hierarchy was going to be my vote for favorite play and then A Criminal Mind by Paula Armstrong came along.  “Black comedy with a twist” really is the perfect way to describe it.  I thought the premise was clever, paced and structured perfectly to unfold in the ten-minute run time and well cast.  The best, however, was really saved for the last – Skux Capacitor’s Mechanics won me over with the “no frills” way in which the story of Joseph and “bad joke Eli” was told.  I loved their use of mime, homemade sound effects and makeshift quicksand as well as the clever use of  “Radio Bloke” to play the story’s narrator.  It was silly but loads of fun and a good laugh – the perfect end to another great selection of  bite-sized theatre!

The Whimsical Banana rates Week 1 of the Wildcards:
Softly as in a Morning Sunrise: 2/5 bananas
A Cultural Hierarchy: 5/5 bananas
Bedtime Monsters: 2/5 bananas
How About Cannons?: 4/5 bananas
Riding the Red: 4/5 bananas
A Criminal Mind: 5/5 bananas
For Our Kind: 3/5 bananas
Mechanics: 5/5 bananas

Short+Sweet Theatre is playing at The Herald Theatre and is presented by The EDGE in association with STAMP. For more information, dates and tickets click here.

For the full programme, cast and play information, check out the Short + Sweet blog.

Review: Short + Sweet Theatre – Top 30 Week 1

For those who have an interest in live performance but have a short attention span, Short + Sweet Theatre is the perfect theatre fix for you.

The first round of this quickfire theatre festival began earlier this week and over the next three weeks will feature 50 plays that have a mere 10 minutes to reel you in and impress you.  From comedy to slice-of-life to melodrama, there is a little something for everybody.  And if something doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, you need only wait a few minutes before the next short story comes along.

There was a lot to like in the first group that took the stage in the Herald Theatre on Tuesday.  Kerrie Ann Spicer’s Stiff Justice set the bar high with a dark comedy about a newbie cop who shares a secret with a ghostly John Doe.  I thought it was brilliantly conceptualized and perfectly timed considering the short time frame.  Do Not Pull by Sally Sutton took a while to “rev up” but the colorful personalities and natural chemistry between the four traveling girl friends is what held my interest.  I particularly liked the ditzy but lovable Chardonnay (how can you not, with a name like that!).  And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good Britney tribute?

Comedy seamlessly moves into drama with the help of smooth set changes and cleverly selected accompanying songs.  I thought Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang following 50 Guns was particularly apt.  Hope, by the Indigenous Theatre Group, Alex Broun’s 50 Guns and Nine Types of Ice by Michael Ripley in the second half all attempt to put some weight in their plays by tackling more serious, real life issues.

I could not take my eyes off Emma Fenton; her gripping “murder is easy” monologue in which she puts a name to every gunshot victim was both disturbing and riveting.  I have to say it was rather daring to bring something like this to the stage, especially in the wake of the recent theatre shooting in America.  The message behind the play is a powerful one but I’m not ashamed to admit I felt a tad uneasy!

Out of all the plays I think Hope, which put a face to abortion was the most confronting and the one that is likely to spark the most controversy.  While I bought in to the actors’ emotionally-charged performances, I do think the subject matter may unfortunately be a little too taboo to be fully appreciated.  The top actors of the night for me were Amelia Reynolds and Xavier Black who went from playing young and excitable friends in Do Not Pull to two anguished mothers in Nine Types of Ice waiting for the fates of their children who were involved in a tragic accident to be revealed – absolutely gut-wrenching.

It was a close race for favorite play of the night for me.  In the end it was between the laughs aplenty medieval-themed Wisdom of Solomon by Tristram Baumber and Nic Sampson’s The Lighthouse Keeper.  Ultimately it was Barnaby Fredric’s charming performance of Earl, the paddles-for-hands “French robot that talks” that sealed my vote.

I did thoroughly enjoy the flamboyant and camp antics of King Solomon (who believes all problems can be solved by literally cutting them in half) but I felt at times the intended chaos and mayhem of the scene was at its detriment as it caused some dialogue to get lost which made it a bit confusing to follow.  In contrast the simplistic nature of the struggling writer who has been replaced by a curious robot who just wants to be friends is devoid of much action but yet is witty, entertaining and just a delight to watch.

Had The Flowers by Festival Director Jonathan Hodge been eligible, my vote would have quite easily gone to it instead.  The second monologue in the bunch, Sheena Irving is perfectly cast as the Nintendo-raised Sam, the “town death magnet”.  The storytelling in this is just superb and again, considering the ten-minute constraint, I thought the story arc was exceptionally paced and very well executed.  The closing play, Supercide, sees the evening finish as it started – with another dark comedy, this time about Aeroman, superhero of Jaffatown, who is uncharacteristically feeling suicidal.  I thought this twist on the superhero tale was very clever and I enjoyed the meta-humour immensely.

If this first round is anything to go by, I am extremely excited for the coming rounds!  I would thoroughly recommend Short + Sweet Theatre to any theatre lover who wants to kill many birds with one stone as these bite-sized plays are the perfect “tasting plate”.  It is also a fantastic opportunity to check out not only the local emerging talent in the theatre world but also from around the globe too.

The Whimsical Banana rates Week 1 of the Top 30:
Stiff Justice: 3/5 bananas
Do Not Pull: 3/5 bananas
50 Guns: 4/5 bananas
Hope: 2/5 bananas
The Lighthouse Keeper: 5/5 bananas
Wisdom of Solomon: 4/5 bananas
Nine Types of Ice: 3/5 bananas
The Flowers: 5/5 bananas
Supercide: 4/5 bananas

Short+Sweet Theatre is playing at The Herald Theatre and is presented by The EDGE in association with STAMP. For more information, dates and tickets click here.

For the full programme, cast and play information, check out the Short + Sweet blog.