TITUS: Shakespeare On Acid

Titus CupcakeRevenge is a dish best served cold.  Unless it is sixteenth century Rome, to which it would be best served freshly baked.

New theatre company Fractious Tash presents a new take on Shakespeare’s most violent work and it is both a gripping and terrifying experience.  Dark and gritty with a generous serving of bloodshed, mutilation and even cannibalism, this intense adaptation is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Titus tells the story of Roman army general Titus Andronicus and how he finds himself in a twisted, vicious cycle of revenge and murder with Tamora, the Queen of the Goths.  Under the masterful direction of Benjamin Henson, this five hundred year old macabre tragedy gets a contemporary makeover with brilliant use of pop culture, tongue-in-cheek creative choices and a hauntingly superb atmospheric set.

In contrast the dialogue is still delivered in the authentic Shakespearean style which does take a while to get used to initially but the story is easy enough to sink your teeth in to which is a credit to the well crafted script and also the exceptional performances by the all-male cast.  All recent graduates from Unitec, these actors are skilled performers, each embodying their characters effortlessly with raw authenticity and great conviction.

Titus

Paul Lewis is well cast as the titular character, brilliantly conveying Titus’ unraveling insanity whilst the villainous Tamora is performed with staggering credibility by Cole Jenkins.  I also found Eli Mathewson’s portrayal of the ill-fated Lavinia particularly stirring.  The actors as a collective are a well-oiled machine, perfectly complementing one another and feeding off each others’ energy.

Stylistically, this play is a visual treat – kudos to the creative team for an outstanding effort.  The lighting and chilling sound design work well in further enhancing the spooky-looking set and these elements all come together as one to create a genuinely scary and unsettling atmosphere.

Titus is a slick and impressive production with a stellar cast and is really Shakespeare as you have never seen before.  It is brutal and shocking, visually arresting and emotionally charged – a truly immersive and visceral theatrical experience.

The Whimsical Banana rates Titus: 5/5 bananas! 

Titus is at the Loft at Q until June 8th – click here for tickets.

Apocalypse Z: An Immersive Theatrical Experience

Apocalypse Z

Can you imagine quiet and peaceful Auckland being overrun by zombies?   How long do you think you will last in a zombie apocalypse?  Zombies have become quite the phenomenon across a range of entertainment mediums but have yet to make an appearance in live performance…until now.

Apocalypse Z is theatre like you have never experienced before; it is a unique blend of interactive and immersive theatre.  You are invited to suspend your disbelief as the show challenges the conventions of theatre, breaking the Fourth Wall by plunging the audience at the cold face of a zombie outbreak right in the heart of the city.  We are told that the only chance of survival is a safe zone that has been erected at the corner of Aotea Square.

As you make your way in to the outpost, from the armed guard keeping watch up high to the ARC (Armed Rescue Coalition) personnel performing tests on you to ensure you are not infected, you quickly forget reality and easily get sucked in to this world where Auckland is under threat.  The rain certainly helped make things feel all the more ominous!

Once inside the safe house, true to the horror genre, that sense of security is predictably short-lived as a new threat arises in our midst.  As things begin to unravel, the tension and sense of impending danger consequently increasingly escalates. I thought the video wall which revealed CCTV footage of within the outpost and the surrounding grounds was a clever touch.  That combined with some brilliantly timed and executed theatrical effects was very effective in keeping the audience on edge.

Between the polished script by Simon London and David Van Horn, excellent direction and set design by Andrew Foster and superb, authentic performances by the cast, this is one slick theatrical production.  I did feel the boundaries could have been pushed a little bit more though and there could have been potential to make it a lot more terrifying – but that’s just the seasoned horror fan inside me speaking!  Having said that, overall the show is genuinely quite scary and the action and drama that unfolds will get your heart racing.

I do not want to give too much away as the “magic” of the experience is in the fear of the unknown and not knowing what to expect.  It is definitely not for the faint of heart but if you are looking to experience a fresh, thrilling new take on theatre with a bit of bite – pun intended! – and you want to see how you would react in a zombie apocalypse, this is not to be missed!

The Whimsical Banana rates Apocalypse Z: 4/5 flesh-eating bananas!

Well done to Beth Allen, Charlie McDermott, the cast and the rest of the “ZomCrew” – bring on the sequel!

Apocalypze Z is on until 27th April and is brought to you by Royale Productions in association with STAMP at The EDGE.

Ensure your survival and get your ticket to safety now!  Tickets are available here.  I would also recommend checking out whatwillyoudotosurvive.com

Promise and Promiscuity: A New Musical by Jane Austen

Promise And PromiscuityPromise and Promiscuity – the title itself immediately peaked my interest.  Directed by Ben Crowder, this fast paced Jane Austen parody provides a refreshing, revamped take on the well-known period drama Pride and Prejudice.

Touted as a new musical, I must preface that this production is so much more than just an hour of song and dance.  The well-crafted script is decidedly cheeky and dripping with irony – the witty double entendres and cleverly tweaked names (my favorite: “Fifty Shades of Argh”) bring this 19th century story to modern day, making it more easily accessible.

I was thoroughly impressed by Penny Ashton who was the woman of the hour.  She skillfully plays the entire cast, switching between each character seamlessly.  There are very minimal costume changes however this is not an issue as each character she portrays has a very distinct voice and set of mannerisms that there is never any ambiguity who she is depicting and when.

The stage feels quite cavernous with sparse props but Ashton makes full use of the performance space, moving between different locations in the story with ease and at one point she even breaks the Fourth Wall by inviting an unsuspecting audience member for an impromptu dance.  The music and sound effects provided by “Musical Maestro Par Excellence” Robbie Ellis further bring the story to life.

As with all other shows featured in the Auckland Fringe, Promise and Promiscuity is only on a very short season.  The final performance is this evening at 6pm so if you are looking for some laughs to finish your weekend, head on over to TAPAC in Western Springs!

For tickets and more information, click here.

The Whimsical Banana rates Promise and Promiscuity: 4/5 bananas!

Promise and Promiscuity is a Hot Pink production and is presented as part of the Auckland Fringe.

Auckland Fringe

One By One: A Love Story Without Words

One By OneThey say actions speak louder than words.  This is exercised to the fullest effect in One By One, a quirky and charming silent show directed by Pedro Ilgenfritz that takes place in a world where words do not yet exist.  Bonnie and Marty’s paths cross in a fortuitous encounter at a park and from that moment on their lives are changed forever.

Katie Burson and Cole Jenkins draw us in and take us along on this adventure of tragi-comic proportions where in the absence of words, exaggeration is key.  Expect lots of comical wide-eyed facial expressions, melodramatic jaunty marches up and down the stage and madcap shenanigans of the slapstick kind.  Burson and Jenkins do all of this effortlessly and with a childlike innocence that perfectly complements and serves the narrative brilliantly.

The other integral element of the show which I thought was executed extremely well was the use of live music to set the pace and tone of each scene.  Jews Brothers band musicians John Ellis and Nigel Gavin are a well-oiled machine – they fittingly employ an eclectic mix of score and sounds throughout this silent love story which I felt really added a great rhythmic pulse to the performance.  Sometimes they don’t get it quite right though and consequently they are directed by the two characters themselves which I thought was a nice touch.

Bonnie and Marty’s breaking of the Fourth Wall doesn’t stop there.  Just as they have invited us in to this playful and musical world of gestures and mime similarly they just as readily jump into ours.  Personal space may be invaded and if you’re lucky enough, you may even get to participate too.

The stage appears stark and bare with only three pieces of furniture and a set of vertical “ribbons” that cross each other to form a skeletal wall.  This inconspicuous minimalist set created by Rachel Walker and though modest is the perfect “blank canvas” for the action that unfolds.

Unfortunately One By One is only running for a very short season – there are only two more opportunities to catch this fun and whimsical homage to silent film and I strongly recommend that you do!  You will be thoroughly entertained and more importantly you will be convinced that a world could exist without spoken word.

For tickets and more information, click here.

The Whimsical Banana rates One By One: 4/5 bananas!

One By One is a production funded by LAB Theatre and is presented as part of the Auckland Fringe.

Auckland Fringe

This review is also featured on Keeping Up With NZ.

Review: An Awkward Family Christmas

We all have annoying and embarrassing relatives that do things at family gatherings which make us cringe.  After watching the crazy and rambunctious mayhem that unfolds in An Awkward Family Christmas, I will never again complain about having to endure my family reunions!

Meet the extended Potts-Chambers family: a brain damaged supermodel, over-competitive, inappropriately close Aryan twins, a lesbian life partner who makes obscene pottery and a perpetually unloved stoner son who the family keeps calling Britney.  And these are just some of the colorful characters!  Add in a festive meal of vegemite and broccoli with a bottle cap thrown in for good measure and you have yourself one very ridiculous and extremely awkward family shindig.

Drawing inspiration from the thousands of awkward family Christmas photographs available online, An Awkward Family Christmas is an utterly insane and over-the-top slapstick comedy which presents every single awkward social and familial situation you can think of, and then some.  The Outfit Theatre Company have yet again lived up to their reputation of being “New Zealand’s rowdiest theatre company” with another production that is cheeky, boisterous and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

This really is a character-centric story and the madcap dysfunctional family which we get acquainted to is portrayed superbly by a talented ensemble of performers.  Jacqui Nauman is incredibly endearing as the childlike and dazed Polly while Andrew Ford’s exaggerated and comical performance of Percy’s faux disability garnered plenty of laughs.

I thought Chris Tempest brought great comedic value to the role of Winston, the lonely neighbor who desperately wants to get past the door so as not to spend Christmas alone.  My favorites of the night though were Joel Herbert and Kate Vox who are perfectly cast as Keith and Keitha; the antics the two get up to individually and as a duo were so entertaining to watch.

With so much chaos and activity going on, it really was up to the actors to sell the story and they did so with great energy and charisma which is a credit to not only their acting prowess but also Ben Henson’s skilled direction.  The sense of camaraderie amongst the cast is evident on stage and I thought their comedic intuition was impeccable.  An unexpected heckler in the crowd ever so slightly threw them off at first but they quickly recovered and handled the ongoing extra “sound effects” like true professionals.

As the story progresses, things begin to unravel and become increasingly more ludicrous and outrageous.  The many interweaving storylines start to become a little far-fetched but yet still somewhat believable within the context of this group of nutty personalities.  Cutting out a storyline or two would have helped the narrative flow a little better as towards the end it did start to feel like there was a little too much going on.  Overall though the script, written by award-winning playwright Thomas Sainsbury, is well crafted; it doesn’t miss a beat and is highly entertaining.

The silly season is pretty much upon us and while this may not necessarily get you in to the festive spirit, it will certainly convince you that your family is quite normal!  Be prepared for a night of many cringe-worthy moments and laughs aplenty – leave your serious side at the door and go with your sense of humor in check.

The Whimsical Banana rates An Awkward Family Christmas: 4/5 bananas!

Ridiculously silly, loads of fun, and just utterly absurd!

An Awkward Family Christmas is playing at the Herald Theatre until 1st December.  For tickets, click here.

Tell Me On A Sunday: A One Woman Musical

Tell Me On A Sunday will not be a hard sell for those already acquainted with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work but I do feel this musical production is particularly accessible and one that can be easily enjoyed by all.  Directed by David Coddington, this one woman musical is performed by a cast of one and made up of a one-act song cycle which showcases music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black.

We follow an ordinary English girl from Muswell Hill who journeys to the United States in search of love.  Her romantic aspirations starts off in the Big Apple, then to Hollywood and eventually back to Manhattan.  The story of her quest for love which turn out to be more of romantic misadventures is told entirely through song as a monologue but also in the form of letters to Mum.

Carly Binding, contemporary pop singer and songwriter, makes her musical debut and is perfectly cast as the “woman of the hour”.  She commands the attention of the audience effortlessly with not only her beautiful tone and stunning range but charismatic personality as well.

Her performance was simply mesmerizing; she is both an accomplished vocalist and gifted storyteller.  She moves from one song to the next with great ease and I thought she interpreted the songs remarkably; with honesty and heartfelt conviction.  My favorite performance of the night was Unexpected Song – the emotion she delivers in this song is incredible and sent chills up my spine.

The accompanying costume changes to signify the passing of time were executed well and added a dynamic layer to the performance.  Carly made full use of the set which is minimal but beautiful with everything on stage having a purpose.  Mention must also be made on the excellent lighting design which set the mood and ambiance perfectly.

Musical director Robin Kelly once again doesn’t disappoint, working his magic with an extremely talented band who bring the score to life and support Carly’s vocal performance beautifully.  The three backing singers also added great depth to the overall sound; their harmonies had just enough restraint and blended well with Carly’s vocals.

Overall this is an outstanding, top notch production which ticked all the boxes for me and left me wanting more.  If you enjoy musical theatre, this one’s for you.

The Whimsical Banana rates Tell Me On A Sunday: 5/5 bananas

Tell Me On A Sunday is presented by The Real Theatre Company and is playing at the Loft at Q until 24 November.  To buy tickets and to get a taste of the music, click here.

This review is also featured on the Q website.

BREL: The Words & Music of Jacques Brel

I always look forward to attending a Silo Theatre production because I know I can expect a slick performance and an excellent night of theatre.  I was particularly excited for BREL as I have only thus far seen plays by Silo and so was really keen to see how they would pull off this extraordinary collaboration of concert and cabaret.

You may not know who Jacques Brel is – as did I – but you will find you have come across his music.  In my opinion, this is the true mark of a great artist.  He wrote over 300 songs in his lifetime and his legacy still lives on to today – many of these have been translated and performed by big names in the business such as David Bowie, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Leonard Cohen and Nina Simone, to name a few.  He is the third best-selling Belgian recording artist of all time and is known as one of the pioneering chansons in musical history.

Jacques Brel is a singer-songwriter in its truest form.  His songs provide a window into his soul and his perspective on life, love and the human condition.  His writing style is often described as dark, cynical, witty, passionate and revolutionary which spring from his reaction and experiences growing up at the time of the German invasion of Belgium during the Second World War.

Thank you to Jackson Perry for the photo!

BREL, put simply, is absolutely breathtakingly phenomenal.  Described as “cabaret noir”, it is a staggering homage and wonderful celebration of Jacques Brel’s works – twenty-one carefully selected songs performed by some exceptional vocal talent.  Tama Waipara, Jon Toogood and Julia Deans are all household names in the New Zealand music scene and need no introduction.  Rounding up the quartet is seasoned theatre veteran Jennifer Ward-Lealand, touted the “First Lady of Cabaret” who is also one of Silo’s trust board members.

The set up of the performance space is incredibly gorgeous with its many vintage lamps peppered all over the stage; this intimate atmosphere is heavily nostalgic of the smoky, dimly lit underground jazz bars commonly found in New York and Berlin.  This set the mood and tone of the show immediately and increased my excitement considerably.

From the moment the quartet took to the stage and the four-piece band kicked in, you are completely transported into the profound and fascinating world of Brel.  His music is considered one of the major influences in contemporary music today and I can see why – his songs are timeless anthems that speak of both the joy and pain that is inevitable in life and love.  The songs are a perfect marriage of stunning melodies and absolute poetic gold – heartfelt, poignant and gut-wrenching.

Every song is performed to perfection with lots of heart and personality, a hint of cheek, and bucket loads of attitude and flair.  Each performance transitions seamlessly and effortlessly to the next and with each song, you are left wanting more.

I thought all four performers emoted and interpreted the songs brilliantly; they had great intuitive musical timing and consistently delivered the story behind each song compellingly and with conviction.  From haunting ballads to energetic anthems, performed both in English and fluently in French, the song list is an eclectic mix to suit any musical taste bud.

Equally as flawless are “Balkan music titans” Dr. Colossus, the extremely talented men behind the music.  Under the skilled direction of Leon Radojkovic, the band come together smoothly as one voice, either to help instill a sense of drama, build up the narrative of a song or simply to complement the vocal performance.  Throw in the well-timed, effective use of lighting too and what you get is sublime and decadent music magic.

BREL is a cabaret and theatrical masterpiece and an absolute triumph.  Michael Hurst’s accomplished direction has succeeded in creating a mesmerizing and unforgettable musical tribute to one of the greatest artists in the twentieth century.  This is not only a vocal spectacle and musical journey you must experience but one that you NEED to.

The Whimsical Banana rates BREL: 5/5 bananas

BREL is at the magnificent Concert Chamber in the Town Hall until 24 November.  For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

Review: Death of a Salesman

This iconic play by Arthur Miller may have been written back in 1949 but the message remains as relevant as ever.  We all have aspirations – some come to fruition while many unfortunately surmount to nothing more than pipe dreams – and the American dream in particular is still something many people chase and desire to this day.

Death of a Salesman was penned in a post-war world of emerging hope and rising opportunities, but yet takes on the pessimistic perspective that not everyone is meant for success, fame and fortune – that sometimes all we are destined to be in this lifetime is ordinary.  We follow Willy Loman, a sixty-year-old burned out, world weary salesman who is fast losing his grip on reality.  He is prone to talking to himself and often relives past events through vivid flashbacks.  This naturally causes great concern among his family – his doting wife, Linda and middle-aged sons, Biff and Happy.

Presented by Peach Theatre Company, this production is masterfully crafted with the structure mirroring a stream of consciousness.  The narrative shifts seamlessly between present time and the past through effective lighting cues and subtle changes in score.  The lines between reality and hallucination increasingly blur as the story develops; whether intentional or not, I thought this fit perfectly with Willy’s progressively deteriorating state of mind.  As Willy delves deeper in to his subconscious, his mistakes, failures and frustrations bubble to the surface and eventually everything in his life unravels.  What unfolds is riveting, heartbreaking and incredibly thought-provoking.

I love a good story with depth and this one is certainly one of them.  Almost everything is symbolic of something or has an underlying meaning.  This story tackles a lot of things which we can all relate to on some level.  Annie Whittle’s haunting laugh from the shadows is a particularly chilling symbol and constant reminder of an infidelity from Willy’s past.  Uncle Ben, his older brother, represents the man he wishes he was and the American dream that has eluded him.  Then there’s his ruthless boss, Howard Wagner, played credibly by Dwayne Cameron, who is the epitome of the cut-throat nature of the corporate world – one that disregards loyalty and is devoid of sentiment.

 

This complex play is brought to life by a stellar cast, many of which are veterans in the industry.  Jesse Peach is clearly a skilled actor’s director as he has really succeeded in bringing out the best in this talented ensemble.  George Henare portrays Willy with great heart and conviction, once again proving what a chameleon and exceptional stage actor he is.  Catherine Wilkin also put on a solid performance as the loving matriarch of the family.

I was really impressed with Ian Hughes’ heartfelt and earnest performance as Biff and I thought Richard Knowles was a great choice as the younger brother; his more jovial energy complemented Ian’s perfectly and the chemistry between them really translated in the many brotherly moments they shared.  Outside the Loman family, the supporting actors do an excellent job depicting their characters too.  I felt the entire ensemble instinctively knew how to play off each other and everything just came together brilliantly, forming an overall superb stage performance.

Death of a Salesman is intense and a sombre piece so is not for everyone, particularly if you enjoy your theatre on the light-hearted side.  But if you want a gripping and compelling story you can really sink your teeth into, this one packs an emotional punch and delivers a powerful message of life and the death of a dream that will resonate with you.

The Whimsical Banana rates Death of a Salesman: 4/5 bananas

Death of a Salesman is playing at the Maidment Theatre until 27th October.  There are only six more shows so get in quick!  Click here for tickets.

Thank you to Elephant Publicity!

Review: The Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Musical

Last weekend, I was transported back to my childhood in a flurry of colorful costumes, energetic song and dance, and a wonderfully dynamic set.  After an incredibly successful season of Jersey Boys, Mary Poppins was easily the next most anticipated musical event of the year and I’m not at all surprised to say it doesn’t disappoint and exceeded my every expectation!

Whether you’re a fan of the 1964 Walt Disney film or the original canon penned by P.L. Travers, this stage musical co-created by Cameron Mackintosh and directed masterfully by Richard Eyre is a whole new magical experience.  Aside from a fabulous top notch cast and fantastic support from a live orchestra, this production makes full use of the stage boasting an array of delightful props as well as visual and special effects that will amaze and enthrall you from start to finish.

According to Mary Poppins herself, you will look like a codfish doing so but I just couldn’t help myself – for most of it, my mouth was hanging open in awe at the magic of it all.  With an impressive constantly changing, ever moving set and featuring both the old classics as well as catchy new songs, this timeless well-loved story is visually breathtakingly beautiful and an absolute joy to hear.

Rachel Wallace is perfectly cast as the titular character, portraying the magical nanny skillfully with an air of grace, unwavering dignity and great finesse.  She really was “practically perfect in every way”!  For many – myself included – Julie Andrews is the visual representation of Mary Poppins but fair warning, this may change after you see Rachel work her magic!  I thought she embodied the physicality and spirit of the character so effortlessly and convincingly.

Just like the Banks’ children who soon become enamored by Mary Poppins’ unconventional but effective nanny style, you can’t help but get spellbound by Rachel’s performance.  She commands your attention with ease and has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand in no time.

The rest of the cast were absolutely stellar too, from the supporting characters to the ensemble.  I thought Simon Burke was great as George Banks, brilliantly depicting the exasperating yet almost comical stuffiness and inflexibility that the character is known for.  Precision and Order, one of the new numbers shines a spotlight on this idiosyncrasy and is a great addition to the song list.

I was also really impressed by the two children that played Jane and Michael.  It’s incredibly inspiring to see such young talent involved in such a major production and giving the adult performers a run for their money!  I especially enjoyed the comedy (with a little hint of mischief!) that the actor who played Michael that evening put in to the character.

Aside from Mary Poppins, the character that I enjoyed the most and who shone the brightest in my opinion was Mary Poppins’ cheery sidekick, Bert.  Matt Lee is simply outstanding as the multi-talented sometimes chalk artist, sometimes chimney sweep.  From opening the show with the recurrent Chim Chim Cher-ee, to being Mary’s trusty best friend and fun companion to the kids, to an astounding gravity-defying stunt, Matt does it all.  He plays Bert with such conviction and his stage presence is second to none; the charisma and energy he brought to his performance was just so enjoyable and captivating to watch.

I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of all the musical numbers.  Every song was beautifully sung and excellently choreographed – a vocal and visual spectacle.  One of the standout numbers for me was Step In Time which featured Bert and his fellow chimney sweeps in an enthusiastic and energetic tap dance routine – it was exciting, dynamic and just so much fun to watch!  Out of all the songs, perhaps the most known and loved one is the catchy mouthful Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  It certainly would have been the most anticipated number and boy was it a goodie – I especially liked the addition of the hand gestures to mimic the letters.

The thing that had the biggest “wow factor” for me which completely blew me away was that stunning and amazing set.  Pretty much every prop and backdrop is movable and can be interacted with which made each set or scene change become more than just a necessity to indicate a change in location or progression in the narrative; for me it was something I started to look forward to seeing happen.

Every time the scene changed or the set moved, it happened so seamlessly and sometimes with a surprise or two that makes you scratch your head and wonder, “how did they do that?”.  It reminded me a lot of those old school “pop up books”.  The scene where the children are introduced to Mary Poppins’ magical bottomless carpet bag is one of my favorites from the film and how it was translated to the stage was just so remarkable to watch; it really was one of those “you have to see it to believe it” moments.

I do feel like my words will not be able to give full justice to just how exhilarating and truly spectacular this production it is.  I also don’t want to give too much away as a big part of the magic is seeing it unfold for yourself!  All I will leave you with is it is a must-see that is well worth the money and the trip – this renown children’s tale turned stage musical is simply flawless and an absolute theatrical triumph.

So don’t miss out – have a generous spoonful of sugar and let Mary Poppins take you and your imagination on a magical, extraordinary adventure.  Your eyes, ears and inner child will thank you for it.

The Whimsical Banana rates Mary Poppins: 6/5 bananas!

Beautifully crafted, exceptionally staged and superbly performed – a massive well done to the cast and creative team!

Mary Poppins is playing at the magnificent Civic Theatre in Auckland for a strictly limited season.  For more information, dates and to buy tickets, click here.  You can also learn more about the cast and crew, and catch snippets of the music by visiting the official Mary Poppins website.

Review: Short + Sweet Theatre – Gala Final

Nineteen days, five heats and forty-five plays later, Short + Sweet Theatre has come to a close and what a fantastic theatre-filled few weeks it has been!  It’s going to feel a bit weird not having to make my twice weekly trips down to the Herald Theatre (it was starting to become quite a welcome routine for me!) and “Eye of the Tiger” will be stuck in my head for the next wee while!

Each week at the end of each round, anonymous judges, reviewers such as myself and audience members vote for their favorite ten-minute play.  With a variety of genres on offer, featuring all sorts of characters, including non-human ones like robots, vegetables and even amoeba, being only allowed to tick just one box was definitely a challenge.

On Sunday it all came to an end and the top twelve favorite plays – eight judges’ choices and four peoples’ choices – performed again in the Gala Final.  I was incredibly satisfied with the plays that had made the cut as most of them had been my personal favorites too.

The Lighthouse Keeper, all the way back from Week 1, was as delightful as I remembered it to be and thanks to some tweaks and additions to the script, managed to inject more comedy in to the story.  The most significant change was the director and playwright Nic Sampson stepping in to play Earl.  He did well but I thought his performance lacked the charm and personality that Barnaby Frederic had when he was the robot. (P.S. get well soon, Barnaby!)  The Smell of Rain also had a cast change with Kevin Keys substituting Preston Arthur O’Brien as Mike.  I thought Kevin brought a different energy to the character but one that still fit and worked.  I do think the chemistry was better with the original cast though; Preston’s more anxious and straight-laced portrayal of Mike complemented the jovial and carefree Serenity much better, in my opinion.

Judging by the applause, On The Shelf and Imperfectly Frank were the crowd favorites of the afternoon.  Celeriac, played by Lauren Porteous, had the crowd in stitches again and I thought it was the right move changing how she gets caught; her sprawled like a starfish on the ground before being dragged away was definitely more comedic and less cumbersome than being carried out.  The Bollywood ending to the Indian slice-of-life tale with a contemporary spin met with the same positive response albeit it was slightly ruined from excited murmurs in the crowd who obviously knew it was coming.

I actually really enjoyed Mother’s Milk and Nine Types Of Ice, the only two dramas of the bunch, much more the second time round.   I thought the storytelling by Dad and even moreso by the Son, played by Kelson Henderson, felt more earnest and compelling.  And with the latter play, I’m so glad the ending was changed so that Susan faced the audience when she realizes it is her daughter that didn’t make it.  That, coupled with the slow fade to black had a much more effective and heartbreaking impact in terms of evoking an emotional response from the audience.

Pëhanga, which won the overall People’s Choice out of both Wildcard rounds, was also more enjoyable on second viewing.  Their performances were great the first time but this time it had a more polished feel to it.  Similarly with two hander Riding The Red, which was the only play representing the first Wildcard heat, the actors had better chemistry and seemed more in tune with their characters this time round; their performance felt more convincing and resonated more with the audience.  The addition of the spotlights which shift between the two as they performed their monologue was definitely a clever move and change for the better as it helped really lure the audience in to what was being said.

I was so happy I got to experience the magic of the fantastical The Soldier’s Heart and the Feathered Girl again.  It really is such a feel-good play with a hauntingly good accompanying score.  Out of everyone else, and not just the finals but the entire festival, I really feel they stood out the most because of the creative way they conveyed their story.  One woman show The South Afreakins was probably the least changed out of the others but was still as solid as ever.  The Break Up remained unchanged as well (from memory) but I did think the story seemed to flow a bit better this time round.  Supercide took up the closing slot again and was another crowd pleaser.  Personally it was my favorite piece in terms of the genre; I love a good dark comedy and the twist to this one was brilliant.  Nice touch adding the “puppets” at the end – a great way to end the show.

I must say the lack of any opening and closing words made the close of the festival feel rather unceremonious and left me feeling a bit cold.  Seeing as it was the matinee show, I know the “official” finale was still to come, but all the same it would have been nice to still have someone say something, if not at the beginning then definitely at the end.

My tiny gripe aside, I’ve had an absolute blast!  A massive well done to those who made it into the Final and to ALL plays involved in this year’s Short + Sweet festival – I was genuinely very impressed by the caliber of plays and blown away by the talent that graced the stage week after week.  I also must mention what a top notch job the crew and especially the backstage hands did throughout the festival – know that your hard work made all the difference!

Also huge congrats to those who walked away with awards at the end!  (Check out who won what here)

And if you haven’t already, here are the links to my reviews of the different heats:
Top 30 Week 1
Wildcards Week 1
Top 30 Week 2
Wildcards Week 2
Top 30 Week 3

Short+Sweet Theatre was presented by The EDGE in association with STAMP.  To find out more about this year’s cast and plays and to be in the know for next year’s festival, subscribe to the Short + Sweet blog.

Already can’t wait for next year!