Albury-Wodonga 10 Minute Play Festival – RatNews Review

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There was a definite theme running through the eight short plays of last night’s 10 Minute Play Festival at the Albury Wodonga Theatre Company – intimacy – seen and unseen.

It’s unlikely such risqué subject matter was intended to be the focus of the festival, it’s just that this most complex aspect of the human condition has been a rich source of material for playwrights over the millennia and audiences love it, as they did last night.

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Wendy Stephens and Patrick Watt from 1-800

Actual representation of intimacy on stage was mostly (yes, only mostly) unseen, but the opening play 1-800 by Wendy Stephens, set the theme for the night, however uncomfortably for the audience.  The central focus of the comedy was the interplay between a customer (Patrick Watt) and his banks’ computer assisted telephone operator (Wendy Stephens). Cleverly written with hilarious dialogue that we could all identify with, the raw emotion elicited by the frustration and pointlessness of dealing with a telephone computer started to resemble real life – and love blossomed between the two protagonists.  Essentially a comedy about an everyday modern life situation, the love twist at the end jolted the audience out of what was otherwise starting to become another version of a well-worn TV skit.  This clever change of direction from comedy to pathos clearly demonstrated to the audience that this 10 Minute Play Festival was going to be a roller coaster ride of emotions.

The cast and director (centre) of Toast

The shortest of the plays followed – Toast, written and directed by local Robyn Wallace.  In what could probably be called a monologue with two actors, the almost non-verbal husband (Stephen Adams) and his apparently long suffering wife (Jenny Cartledge) had long ago left intimacy in the bedroom, but the memory of that relationship was clear – at least to the wife.  Reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s The Twits, this favourite plot of many comedy writers, beautifully delivered by the incredibly experienced Cartledge, produced the biggest laugh of the night – and well deserved too.

After these two comedies had warmed up the audience, the packed crowd were brought back to Earth with the only play that didn’t use intimacy as a theme. Flight, written by well-known 10 minute playwright Alex Broun, was directed by Aana Nicol.  In a beautifully delivered piece, Bron Daniels plays the privileged first-world business traveller faced with the realities of third-world lives, first on a flight, diverted due to a death of an infant  traveller in coach class, and then as she waits for her next flight finds herself in the slums of Mumbai.  Daniels was able to deliver the full range of emotions from slightly perturbed, to complete despair and confusion as her seemingly fortunate life is pulled into focus under the microscope of reality.  A powerful performance that won the play the (joint) audience favourite for the night.

Bron Daniels (L) from Flight, and Stacey Hartwich (c) and Bec Simboras from Ash

The fourth play was Ash, another one by Alex Broun, and acted by Stacey Hartwich (Jessikah) and Bec Simboras (Ash), reunited from AWTCo’s successful production of Steel Magnolias.  The simple but rather outlandish premise of the plot – the scattering of the ashes of Jessikah’s husband into the stratosphere from a plane – gave the actors the ability to demonstrate their wide range of acting abilities from comedy, to pathos and drama, with the apparent relationship between Ash and the “ashes” forming the twist at the end that kept the audience guessing.  The script and the setting (parachute wearing actors inches from being sucked out of a place) required rapid fire dialogue between the two – perfectly delivered and not a beat missed.  My personal favourite for the night.

After intermission, Presto, a rollicking piece by TV actor and writer Serge de Nardo, and acted by Diane Stuckey, Lachlan Davidson and Derek Wallace, certainly produced the second big laugh of the night.  The over-the-top script, hand grenades, machine guns, and Wallace and Stuckey’s hilariously fumbling slap stick on-stage lustful intimacy certainly won this play the most “out there” of the night, even if it didn’t win it any prizes.

Laura Bray and Darby Quinlivan from What’s on the Menu

What’s on the Menu followed, written by Fay Andrews and directed by Albury newcomer Laura Bray who also starred in the play alongside Darby Quinlivan.  With nothing more than a plastic table and two chairs to support the actors on stage, this complex script required the actors to take the audience on a journey of life’s experience.  The ability of both actors to deliver emotional realism, and at the same time keep the dialogue flowing kept the audience engaged.  The implications of a relationship where intimacy had been replaced by “life”, where the mortgage, jobs and kids had become the focus, was the premise of this play.  Meandering through this milieu of emotions – blame, confusion, lack of life meaning and aspirations lost, the two actors delivered a piece that many in the audience could identify with.  But before it became too close emotionally convoluted, the piece resolves itself when the wife jets off to Paris with boss – much to the relief of all.

Similar to the previous play, Today’s Special followed where Stan (Nathan Geillie) and Velma (Laura Sheridan), seemingly on a first date, explore their reactions to factors complicating the blossoming of a potential love affair.  Whether it was “to wine or not to wine” or what to do with the fact that he was already married, the play takes the audience along a journey of emotional twists and turns, ranging from seduction and offence, to the exploration of desire and fantasy – not an easy job to achieve – even with the comic relief provided by the occasional appearance of the fumbling waiter (and Director Darby Quinlivan).    The script by well-known one act playwright Greg Vovos cleverly concludes by revealing the apparent first date is in fact a marital aid for the already married pair – leaving the poor waiter at a loss as to what to do.

Those responsible for Bumping into Sarah – (L-R) Anne Dobson, Pieta Swann, Georgina Grutch, Shoshanna Griffin and Kaz Hicks

The final play, Bumping Into Sarah written by local playwrightKate Rotherham and directed by Pieta Swan, is the one with most on stage actors and brings the theme of intimacy almost full circle.  While giving birth does not actually occur on stage, it is clear that Sarah (played by Georgina Crutch) is about to.  It is the reactions of the other three to this upcoming event that forms the basis of the play.  Anyone who has ever had children could identify with the reactions of all on stage, the most dramatic (and hilariously funny) delivered by Anne Dobson, along with Shoshanna Griffin and Kaz Hicks as the other two “know it alls”.  The realism of the acting, and the content of the script, ensured that many in the audience could identify with the emotions being felt by the one with child, and for these reasons it is probably not surprising that it jointly won first prize on the night.  Well deserved.

This festival of 10 minute plays is a credit to the local actors, writers and directors of the Albury-Wodonga region and beyond, and to  AWTCo for staging it.  The rules were simple, choose a play from a selection provided by AWTCo, use whatever staging and props you could carry on and off stage in about 30 seconds, use one lighting and one sound effect, and turn up on the night.  The response from the packed audience was clearly a result of the professionalism, enthusiasm and skill of the Actors and Directors, and the ability to vote for your favourite was an added little trick to keep the audience engaged – not that it was needed as the stuff on stage was all that was required to do that.

A fabulous night out, and one this reviewer will be looking forward to next year.

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