Playspotting, presented by Melbourne Writers' Theatre & MelBorn08 at the Carlton Courthouse as part of the Melbourne International Fringe Festival, (Melbourne).
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The ten-minute play format has been booming ever since the success of the Short & Sweet Festivals in Sydney and Melbourne, but for many other theatre institutes (as well as critics!), it is looked upon as an inferior cop-out to that of producing a full-length theatrical piece.

However, these views can stem from misguided attitudes, brought about by a traditional point of view that follows an ‘idealist’ motto and not that of a current theatrical climate.

Furthermore – and probably more importantly – there can be substance as well as style in shorter pieces that’s not so easily recognisable.

It’s theatre’s version of a 20/20 cricket match, where the spectator is given what the spectator fundamentally yearns for, but in a package that it can digest easily enough, without putting question marks in their heads if they were to see something less than impressive.

Yes, we all would like to walk away thought-provoked and entertained at the same time (as we would when we see a good flick), but if the viewed content is no good and our tolerance level low, it would be fair to say it would be a long while before we, the ordinary punter, would see something on the stage again. Cue big budget musicals and rehashed soap stars…

So with that said, the Melbourne Writers’ Theatre has incorporated a ten-minute play festival into its regular season of various creative works. And they haven’t only just jumped on the short format bandwagon.

This is MWT’s second MelBorn short-play festival – this year is entitled Playspotting. The title obviously borrowed (and twisted) from the film Trainspotting.

And like Trainspotting, where several characters make up the atom of the story, Playspotting incorporates an ensemble of actors and directors to stage (and film!) 12 of the MWT’s best-selected submissions.

Anything, from an unwanted Saturday night pick-up, to the plight of an out-of-work actor, to revisiting a lost loved one is represented here.

The whole evening is actually an informal performance piece, with the actors, warming up and chatting amongst themselves on stage as the audience enters. In between each staged performance is the ‘12th play’ – Unsafe Sex – written by prolific Cerise de Gelder and directed by Lucien Savron.

This stylised piece plays well between each of the live performances and a nice diversion from the boring set changes that inevitably occur.

Artistic director Robert Chuter obviously wanted the ‘fourth wall’ to be broken and non-existent. What the audience get in return is a casual viewing of pieces brought to life, stripped of the pretentious ‘theatre’ vibe, yet still holding a certain quality within the individual plays. And the best part of the performances is their variety…

What is also positive to see, is that the drama Ten Years – by Therese Cloonen, directed by Kym Davies – is pretty much fresh at the start of the evening’s proceedings.

With wonderful performances by Juliana Clements and Brenda Palmer, Ten Years is a touching dialogue of mother and daughter that could have easily been logged well into the program, when people’s attention would be more sedate.

But in between comedies The Drip (by Mark Andrew, directed by Wendy Joseph) and Ticking Boxes (by Brooke Fairley, directed by John Jacobs), we immediately get a taste of what to expect – and of what not to expect!

Standout pieces include: Jane Miller’s moving A Cup Of Sugar, directed by David Bell, The Needle And The Damage Done by Angus Brown, directed by Robert Chuter, Phoebe Hartley’s The Letter, directed by Sean Collins and Alex Broun’s Cate Blanchett Wants To Be My Friend On Facebook, directed by Lucien Savron.

Miller’s A Cup Of Sugar is also a poignant drama about a couple wanting to conceive, but it’s also a drama that’s quite left of centre, even thought provoking, thanks mainly to the odd (and ultimately lonely) personalities that embody the three characters. Performances by Nicola Wright, Adam Tuomenin and Elijah Ungvary are outstanding.

The extraordinary The Needle and the Damage Done is another left of the middle piece, stunningly pieced together by Chuter with great timing and performances by Jason Buckley [one of the accomplished performances of the evening] and Liz McColl.

The rug gets suitably pulled from under you as tensions build in this David Lynch type piece. Young playwright and actor Angus Brown is certainly a name to look out for.

And when Robyn Kelly embodies a desperate Cate Blanchett, the final piece of the evening, one certainly gets the feeling that they’ve had a good fill of many varied plays that seem to be just a drop in the ocean of what local writers can produce.

Even George Huxley’s great The Trick was seen to be more than what it had delivered on stage. Unfortunately, great comedic and flamboyant characters were left wanting in the face of Lynne Ellis’ direction and the downplayed acting – a snappy plot drawn out too long, lack of humour with no big payout at its conclusion. The only disappointment of the evening.

But full credit goes not only to the wonderful ensemble of actors that perform multiple characters and the great directors that were assembled to add their own uniqueness and mood to each play, but the overall concept that brings a very fresh vibrancy to what could have been a run-of-the-mill, multiple short play production.

Chuter’s extensive work with Fly-On-The-Wall Theatre has ensured that creative detail doesn’t go amiss when it comes to performance, presentation and production.

Well worth seeing.

Playspotting at the Carlton Courthouse
24 September – 11 October
Wed-Sat 8pm / Sat (matinee) 1pm / Sun 6.30pm
(No matinee Sat 27th September)
Tix $25.00 Full / $20.00 Concession
Festival Tix (03) 9660 9666 or at or at the door.

Chris Thorp
About the Author
Chris Thorp studied drama at university in Queensland and has performed as an actor in numerous stage productions, both in Australia and the UK. He recently returned to Melbourne after working in London for three years.