Theatre review: Short+Sweet Theatre Week 1, Herald Theatre

By Janet McAllister

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Short plays dish up comedy, murder, everything between with some pretty good acting.

Geoff Allen and Leisha Ward-Knox in The Birthday, a clever whodunit styled as a 1920s silent film.
Geoff Allen and Leisha Ward-Knox in The Birthday, a clever whodunit styled as a 1920s silent film.

Misfits, murderers, heroes and lovers all troop across the Herald Theatre stage this week in 11 short plays ranging from farce to melodrama.

Bruce Brown, the standout director of last year's Short+Sweet Festival, again gives us a highlight of quickfire conversation, Staged Madness, in which Kate Vox plays up marvellously as an actress who, unlike her psychiatrist, can see through the fourth wall into the audience.

"It's not the Civic, but it'll do," she sniffs. "What's the play about?" the psychiatrist (Matt Norton) asks, indulging her. "It's pretty meta at this stage," is the amusing, honest reply.

Actors also play actors in two other playlets: a washed-up thespian threatens a young director (an assured Phoebe Borwick) with Lear's "sharper than a serpent's tooth" curse in Walking Shadow. And writer Finnius F. Teppett has fun with self-important luvvie types in Reading Lamouche.

In hopeful drama Out from Under with Mary, a homeless woman (Sarin Moddle) wins over a young mother (Katherine Mewett) at a drug testing clinic. Robyn Paterson's The World's Worst Fight is a comedy of Adam and Eve. Storming the Castle is a shock-funny warning of the perils of letting your 13-year-old son (a great Daniel Sewell) watch Game of Thrones.

A Glorious Act uses archival footage and oral history with adroitness to retell a 1933 real-life tragedy (although the rhyming couplets needed an introduction).

All pearls and little black dresses, Natalie Beran's The Birthday is styled as a clever 1920s whodunit silent film, which rewinds and replays with a different culprit every time. The puns of Irish Stew work better than their utterer's repetitive bewilderment. Physically creative After. Life. includes several "faces" made of many hands apiece.

The absurdist Zooquatic by Chelsea McEwan Millar and Elizabeth McMenamin, about a zebra and a shark who form a gay relationship, has a weirdly structured story arc, but is entertaining.

The programme doesn't reveal which playwrights are local, but compared to other Short+Sweet years, the acting standard is reasonably good. A follow-up batch of plays will be performed next week. Tickets are $25.

Theatre review

What: Short+Sweet Theatre Week 1
Where: Herald Theatre, to June 22.

- NZ Herald

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