After over a month of heats in front of sometimes sold-out audiences, the lineup for the Short+Sweet Gala Finals at the Brisbane Powerhouse later this month has been decided. And what a varied bunch of shows it is, which isn’t entirely surprising, given the eclectic nature of each of the four theatre and three cabaret rounds that have taken place in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast. With dark stories and complex pieces to make you think, moments to tear you heart out and plenty of laughs aloud, the festival, which began in Sydney but has since expanded across Australia and internationally, really is the best little play festival in the world, unique not only because of its format of 10 minute shows but the creative opportunities it provides to emerging and established artists. (Dead Puppet Society first formed for the Short+Sweet Festival in 2009 and after taking out Best Overall Production, the company has flourished and are now staging national tours such as the recently-wrapped Argus).
In the parody work “How To Write A Ten Minute Play” a snarky coach presents advice to his two assistance on what to do and not to do when crafting a ten minute work such as would be entered in Short+Sweet; zombies, speed dating and time travel were all funnily identified as clichés…. funnily because all three featured across the strands, often in more than one piece. Indeed despite the assortment of shows, there have been some clear common themes to this year’s lineups. Relationships have featured strongly, as has social media… in combination too, with Tinder taking a central place in many narratives.
Shows have taken form in all types of genres from the riotous comedy of an 80s-style aerobic workout with excitable Liechtenstein instructors in finalist contender “Workout Wunderbar” to serious contemplation of the intimacy of terror in “In Kabul” and more than one show with Film Noire sensibilities, because “once you go noire, you don’t go back” we were told in “The Maltese Walter”. To see shows playing with genre and convention certainly has added interest and creation of points of difference through metatheatre moments and fourth wall breaks. But ultimately the strands have been about entertainment and the majority of shows have had much to offer in this regard, with some of the funniest of comedy coming from the strangest of circumstances, such as a hilarious meeting of the Gary’s Club, gatecrashed by a Frank in the Gala Final Wildcard Addition, “Gary?” There has even been audience participation courtesy of the interactive choose-your-own adventure game show “The Customer is Always Right” in which the audience makes decisions for the characters on stage.
However, ultimately, in the theatre rounds, it has been the smaller, quieter shows that have left the most lingering of impressions despite their minor casts. “The Truth about Mum and Dad” saw two siblings’ shared coffee turning into outrageous contemplation of what their parents may be doing, while “Awkward” featured solo artist Alex Budden telling the tale of 15 year old Ned’s response to unexpected news about his father and it is fitting perhaps that both will be featuring in the Gala Final event.
As theatre’s younger musical sister, cabaret has also offered audiences a range of experiences from traditional jazz Judy and Ella fare, bold burlesque, a musical mashup of Disney villains and some cheeky hand puppetry in “Roxie Swarovski”, to clap along traditional experiences like “Bulgarian Folk Songs” and the chance to see some sexy, scaly songsters in “Dancing with Dinosaurs” from the creators of the hit show “Public Toilets, Private Words”.
However, again often it has been the traditional conversational style cabaret works that have stood out. Rachel Rai’s “Manxious” was a well-structured and engaging work of lament over a man who may not be the texting type, but still could be the marrying type. And with the addition of ukulele, how can you really go wrong? Similarly, “The Confession”, written and performed by Emily Vascotto was richly composed and well-balanced in its story of a girl next door’s search for her fairytale love, with Vascotto’s appropriately-animated performance shining brightly with cabaret sparkle and strong vocal delivery. And with both of these featuring amongst the Gala finals line-up, the competition is looking strong.
The task of selecting the best and most popular works from a line-up of over 60 shows is no easy feat, which is why power is handed over to the audiences who vote for their favourites in each round. Although this sometimes means the show with the greatest audience support base comes out of top, the result is an absolutely eclectic mix guaranteed to provide audiences with their own favourites. And regardless of what they might be, those in attendance will surely never see a night out at the casino the same way again thanks to Lachlan Stuart’s “The Longest Five Minutes”. But don’t just take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. Given that last year’s Sydney Winner “Dirty Sexy Politics” has recently had its premiere season at the Queensland Cabaret Festival, it may well be your chance to say ‘I saw them way back when…”