Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 7 – 11, 2015
Festival Director: Pete Malicki
Image by Sylvi Soe
Sydney’s Short+Sweet Theatre festival features around 160 different 10-minute plays over 8 weeks. It is an excellent opportunity for talents of all experience levels to experiment, and a way for a myriad Australian stories to be told. The festival takes the form of a competition, with winners selected by judges and audiences, to be announced in March. The contest environment might encourage participants to only create crowd-pleasing works, but the event is actually quite varied in style and substance. On each night, ten plays are presented by a wildly diverse group of artists with no discernible unifying theme, which means that the likelihood of any audience member enjoying every piece in the program is slim, but discovering a couple of works that would appeal is certainly not difficult.
Short plays are challenging to performers who need to provide depth to characters who appear only fleetingly. They have less scripted pages to rely on, so ingenuity becomes central to their process. Ally Morgan plays Stephanie Tamara Anderson, a terminally ill teenager in Bokkie Robertson’s Wish (pictured above). Morgan’s confidence and conviction is a joy to watch, and the playful enthusiasm she brings to the stage is thoroughly captivating. In Jeffrey Hampson’s Wherefore Art Thou Oh Writing Inspiration, Hampson plays the role of William Shakespeare in an imagined struggle to create a new play, tentatively titled ‘Juliet and Romeo’. His performance finds focus after a shaky start, and endears to the crowd with a humorous take on the creative process.
Choose by Sam Jenkins is an intelligent work that entertains and amuses its audience, with a daring and fresh approach to theatre-making. Jenkins’ creation seems to be partly improvisational and partly scripted, but there is no way to tell for sure. The only person we see is a volunteer who reacts to Jenkins’ voice which provides prompts and narration. There is an element of Choose Your Own Adventure to its structure, and it relies heavily on Jenkins’ brilliant sense of humour and lightning fast responses to keep us excitedly engaged. A great strength of the piece is its unpredictability, and its success is evident in how much we wish to see it again, with a different unsuspecting subject steering Jenkins in different directions.
The Short+Sweet brand has expanded across the globe, and is now “the biggest little play festival in the world”. It provides excellent context for community involvement and unparalleled exposure, and is a crucial part of the Australian theatrical landscape that unearths impressive talent and inventive ideas. An event of this scale will have moments of disappointment, and patience will be tested, but with the bad, comes the good, and when the good shines through, all else is forgotten.