Saturday, 6 July 2013

Theatre review: Short and Stark

You can't accuse Short and Stark of having a misleading title: Originally commissioned by various theatres for their short play festivals, Joel Horwood collects all his playlets together into an hour with a bitter tang and the occasional jab of dark humour, with mixed results. Opening and closing with the longest piece, each about 20 minutes long, the first may be the weakest, monologue "Everything I've Ever Done Wrong (Amplified.)" An office worker and sex addict (Simon Yadoo) doesn't actually list all his misdeeds, but the encounter with a temp he relates sums up, he feels, all the worst things about himself. It's presented as if it were a piece of stand-up comedy, delivered into a mike, but is dark and full of self-loathing. And I know there were only eight people in today's matinee audience to choose from, but I couldn't help but take it personally when the actor delivered an entire speech about arseholes towards me. Literal arseholes.

Asked to respond to a song, Horwood chose "Fairytale of New York," and takes up the story of the feuding couple after they've finally split up, when he (Oliver Bennett) is still a drunken wreck and she (Catherine Skinner) returns from the life she's made for herself to check up on him at Christmas. Another monologue, "Polly Brown" follows a man's (Tim Pritchett) entire life from his birth in the Blitz to his death in a retirement home, all coloured by his memory of the first girl he loved as a boy. The cast sheet also promises a two-part piece, "Wolf," that doesn't materialise - unfortunate given it seems to have inspired the entire collection's poster image.

The performers are good and the pieces are decent but hard to get too excited about until the final one, "The Dim,"  which sees a young man, Charlie (Bradley Taylor,) in a dead-end job attempt to find something better, only to get thrown into a fury when his new job-seeking adviser (Oliver Bennett) turns out to be his old high school nemesis who he still feels humiliated by. It was apparently turned into a full-length play after it was first seen in 2006 but as it stands it's already the best example here of how much you can cram into a short space of time, succinctly saying a lot about how our formative memories may hold a very different meaning to other people, and sees both Charlie and his apparently hopeless friend Dim (Will Rastall) find something to work towards.

"The Dim" is certainly the highlight of Jim Russell's production (which sees The Little, in only its second outing, reconfigured by designer Rachel Stone into a litter-strewn traverse) although there's moments of value in the other pieces along the way as well. And I'm going to hazard a guess Horwood's childhood trauma involves him pissing himself in public, since out of four short plays three of them feature this happening.

Short and Stark by Joel Horwood is booking until the 13th of July at Southwark Playhouse's Little Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour straight through.

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