|Brand Spanking New festival director and self-proclaimed “talent truffle pig” Augusta Supple has done it again with another gobsmackingly good line-up for week two of this must-see short theatre festival. While week one presented various delights of a consistently good standard, this time around it’s a selection that aims to push our buttons and stretch the boundaries of the format. It both succeeds and fails in parts, but that’s the point really isn’t it of theatre? There’s not much point pushing the boat out if you’re not prepared to get wet.Within the eight plays on the night there’s a huge range of meaty characters and scenarios on offer; from xenophobic checkout chicks to silly self-help gurus, lofty proposals and adult fairytales, even Frankenstein-like monsters and souls adrift both literally and metaphorically. Each play is as different as you could hope to have, and it goes to show that there really is an abundance of ripe and unique playwriting talent alive and kicking in the Sydney scene.
Right from the opening tableau, which features the entire cast onstage preoccupied in a rhythmic reading and scrunching of paper to the dreamy yet playful score of composer Catherine Robinson, we know that this a theatre experience that is bigger than the sum of its parts. There’s a unity to it that’s reinforced byPaul Matthews inspired set design, a compartmentalised structure of fantasy-like filing cabinets stuffed with reams of paper, which brings to mind both the intangible and unconscious landscape of thoughts and ideas as well as the very concrete nature of the writing process itself.
Through the course of the evening we get to embrace the myriad of guises a small play can take. There’s the monologues, Self Service and White Wedding which engage us directly with their passionate protagonists, the three-handers The Bermuda Love Triangle and Lone Bird, which demand we take sides; and of course the tense intimacy of the two-handers, if i could be anything i would be something different, Polly Pocket is Not a Princess andKing of the Mountain. Rather than being a limitation we discover that the short play can be quite a liberating fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of thing where anything and everything can plausibly happen. Of course, that’s an illusion though really, because it takes a great degree of skill to make this kind of elasticity seem effortless, and the majority of the playwrights here have it in spades.
Notable mentions for the night must go to Mary Rachel Brown for her beautifully observed understanding of the entrenched racism in the Australian psyche in Self Service, delivered with charming wit and brave realism byChristine Greenough; to Maxine Mellor for her naughty, inventive and playfully fun Polly Pocket is Not a Princessin which Mairead Berne shines as a evil bitch Barbie who deserves a good roasting. And, to the absolute showstopper of the night, Lone Bird by Verity Laughton, who is clearly quite the master of the craft, blowing us away with her deft and fluid ability to create a psychologically thrilling encounter all with the minimal number of brushstrokes. It’s greatly enhanced too by wonderful performances from Tim Allen as the sinister ferryman Stan andFiona Press as Susan, one of his hapless passengers.
All in all, Brand Spanking New week two is a resounding success both for the industry and audiences alike, and judging by its sell-out opening night you really should be getting on the phone to the New Theatre right now if you want to catch it before the week is out!
New Theatre presents
This review first appeared on Australian Stage October 2009