|For those who like their theatre fresh, tasty and bite-sized there’s plenty to love about this year’s season of Brand Spanking New. Now in its second year, this two-week festival of short theatre which aims to showcase the best new works by emerging and established Aussie playwrights has hit its stride. Festival directorAugusta Supple has out done herself, assembling a rich and varied smorgasbord of dramatic delights for week one that are sure to have you giggling and gripped in equal amounts.There’s Homemade, a witty and at times poignant monologue on family, loss and sausage rolls from accomplished writer Vanessa Bates. It’s delivered with a nice sense of timing and sensitivity byJane Phegan, who holds the audience utterly captive for the duration of the piece.
Next there’s Matt Lauer a super-sharp rip-snorter by Rick Viedewhich focuses on a teenage boy’s obsession with the real-life host of NBC America’s Today Show. It’s a deviously dark piece of cultural comedy that takes aim at society’s sycophantic relationship with celebrity. Actor Julian Lovick is intense, strong and utterly hilarious as the boy, who lives his life according to the values he’s gleaned from his TV idol.
Fit For A King is a kind of oddball comedy from Scottish playwrightPhil Spencer, about three wacky inmates who pass the time by playing a gastronomic game of food guessing. It’s punchy in a Tarantino meets Peter Greenaway in a street fight kind of a way – i.e. the thugs are very clever and chatty, but you’re not sure whether you’re dreaming or awake.
Tamara Asmar’s Queen of The Night is a brilliantly written two-hander about an encounter between an aging prostitute and a stitched-up female ‘John’. What starts out as a ballsy sex comedy with Queenie (Abi Rayment) detailing her “bedroom degustation” menu soon moves into an exploration of relationships which is deep and undeniably real. Rayment is wickedly funny as Queenie, a character who is crying out for a longer format to roam around in.
Last Ride by Ross Mueller is the story of two old codgers who find their night veering wildly off the rails when the try to score drugs for a bird they’ve met in a bar. It’s an interesting premise which seems ripe for some laughs, but when the girl they’ve met seems completely unfazed by the violence that threatens we’re questioning where we are and how the hell we got here.
The most thought-provoking play for the night is Jonathan Ari Lander’s Measure which takes on the story of a suspected Cambodian Khmer Rouge soldier who is forced to face his past. It’s brimming with depth and realism, thanks to an emotionally charged and vulnerable performance by Felino Dolloso as the accused murderer Lohr.
Jonathan Gavin’s The Return rounds out the evening with a rollicking romance which takes it’s inspiration from the journals of Matthew Flinders, who, the play suggests may have been a much better navigator than he was a husband. This laugh-out-loud jaunt sees Flinders (Matt Charleston) returning home to face the music after leaving wife Ann (Natalie Saleeba) home in England for almost ten years while he’s been off gallivanting across the oceans with his cat Trim. Saleeba and Charleston have a ball with this very funny material and bounce off each other with superb comic timing. It’s a wonderful ending to the night that leaves the audience spilling over into the foyer grinning from ear to ear.
Brand Spanking New is simply a great, fun night of theatre that is sure to leave you feeling optimistic and pleasantly surprised about the range of talented playwrights that are out there right now. And on that note, after all the fuss in the press this week that’s seen Neil Armfield dodging bullets over Belvoir’s 2010 “boys club” line-up, it seems worth pointing out that perhaps the answer to the question: Where are all the talented female writers and directors in the Sydney scene, has already been answered – a fair few of them are hiding out at the New!
New Theatre presents
This review first appeared on Australian Stage October 2009