If ever there was a case of less is more, then the concept of the ten-minute play must be a worthy contender. I say this as one who has sat, without complaint, through her fair share of three–act dramas whilst those around me grow ever more restless in their seats, hoping in vain for an early release back into the free world.
Dubai’s Short and Sweet Festival of Theatre is the antidote to all that. A menu of varied theatrical nuggets, freshly crafted and energetically presented is a winning way to keep an audience involved and alert. If you don’t like this play, chill out – there’ll be another one along in a few minutes.
Shorter and Sweeter, the spin-off from Dubai’s 2015 Short and Sweet Festival, offered audiences a chance to see eight of this year’s award winners, restaged at the plush Madinat theatre. The programme of entertaining and thought-provoking pieces highlighted the challenges the form presents for writers, directors and actors and the creative spark required to excel in this medium.
The material has to make a swift impact, characters must be concisely defined and dilemmas clearly communicated. A satisfying pay-off is also good if it can be managed, though as this showing revealed, conclusions are somewhat elastic if some extended ad-libbing in character is necessary to cover a scene change.
For seven of the eight presentations a strong cast of just four actors played multiple roles. With minimal staging and straightforward costume, bar Elizabethan dress for the comic rewrite of Romeo and Juliet, the focus was on the ideas and the performances. Here are my personal highlights.
Social media –aka the new ‘lipstick on your collar’ for the unfaithful was explored in Tagged, the comic opener written by Russell Bell. This worked for me on two levels. Yes, the characters and their relationships to each other were a tad overblown but underneath the laughter the play posed some pressing questions about privacy and what we might be losing in an age where snapshots of our lives can be documented and put online – by others.
To write a short play that is both funny and moving is a tall order but Jane Miller’s Perfect Stillness achieved that with a very simple but clever idea. A husband writing a eulogy for his wife is chided by the deceased for his lack of honesty about their relationship. Two finely judged performances by Shereen Saifudeen and Mike Green presented a more affecting reality. The ending invited us to ponder on whether the truth can ever be a welcome guest at a funeral.
The black comedy, Last Drinks introduced a deliciously odd pair with a curious synergy. Ben is determined to die but every attempt to commit suicide ends in failure, whilst Mel, in full bridal regalia is drowning her sorrows after her umpteenth potential husband expired before he could make it up the aisle. Over drinks they share their sorrows and discover they are made for each other – just before the final, laughable catastrophe.
The dramatic tensions of a love triangle have earned Somewhere between the Sky and the Sea a string of ‘best’ awards in previous Short and Sweet festivals around the world and must have won even more admiration on this showing. A composer that cannot choose between the two women in his life – the poetic sky and sea of the title – does not sound like a character that deserves much sympathy. The writing and the performances turned this notion on its head and the beautifully conceived asides to the audience added layers of complexity to this conundrum. The writer, Alex Broun is based in Dubai and is the world’s most successful ten-minute playwright.
A twist in the tale or maybe that should be ‘tail’ was brilliantly set up in No. 22. A group of captives in orange jumpsuits await their fate. Some of their number have already been taken and boiling water torture awaits. No one returns. In an atmosphere of grim humour, bad temper and out and out terror, the unfortunates display their totally human responses. Until we realise they are not human, but are a menu option. For me the play should have ended at that very satisfying point.
Presented by Third Half Theatre the final presentation, Tréteau put the actor’s craft in the frame. This was a tour de force performed by seven actors, with all the fast-paced action occurring within a tightly defined white box. Was that a Peter Brook reference? Everything was meaningful in this magic show where epic landscapes and mythical quests were conjured through a combination of physical theatre, mime and heightened language. It was colourful, random, hard to comprehend at times, but thrilling to watch. Theatre as Jackson Pollock might have conceived it.
Short and Sweet is a global festival brand that began in Sydney. For more information www.shortandsweet.org