Four writers, four plays, eight actors, four directors all in less than an hour. Authors have been challenged to create a play than runs shorter than most intervals in an average play. Not an easy task but the premise of Soho Shorts, collaboration between the Pulse Fringe Festival and the Soho Theatre.
The teams have only been working together for two days, a mix of professionals from various theatrical disciplines to give each playlet a unique feel.
By the very nature of the time limitations there is a real challenge to set up character and plot without the luxury of long exploratory scenes that full length pieces allow. The shortness though does have its benefits; it focuses attention on character and language, stripping out extraneous detail in favour of dramatic drivers.
Of the four pieces some work better in this mini format.
The evening opens with Titian Blue by Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Lloyd (Michael Cox) and Clara (Katie Lyons) are two artists and ex-lovers who meet and tentatively reignite their past love. It’s a relationship shaped by art, feelings expressed as tones from the Grand Masters, a sky of Titian Blue and grass of Botticelli sea green. There’s also a darker sexual obsession in their past, an obsession with menstrual blood and death. Directed by Pulse Festival director Emma Bettridge, Titian Blue is full of evocative imagery but as a short play it leaves lots unanswered. We never really understand the motive behind this couple and their meeting and in many ways it seems like an excerpt from a longer play rather than a stand alone piece. There are so many questions we want answers to that it needs more than 10 minutes to resolve.
Second play of the night is Pamela Carter’s Oh. A man and a woman (a psychiatrist and patient?) examine the nature of the pain the woman is experiencing. She can’t verbalise the feelings she is experiencing, he seems to be revelling in suggesting various sensations to her. Gecko’s Amit Lahav directs the piece with a heightened theatricality but sadly it is the least fulfilling piece of the evening. While well performed by Philip Benjamin and Chloe Gilgallon, the play ultimately seems little more than word association and a long list of adjectives.
Andrew Muir’s Blind Permission is the most successful piece of the quartet. A confident PR professional (Georgina Roberts) is on a first date with a shy, quiet almost reclusive man (Richard Henders). Over a meal she tries to discover more about her new date but, despite being able to talk in great depth over the entire evening’s proceedings, they are initially unable to talk about what they really want to discuss. As the dominant party she takes the initiative and reveals her real motive for meeting him but he has dark secrets of his own to bring to the table. Within ten short minutes Muir creates two wonderfully drawn characters brought to life in an instantly recognisable setting by director Mimi Poskitt. Although self contained within this short space of time, Blind Permission has potential to become a longer piece.
The final piece of the evening, Cartography is a one woman monologue, written by Tim Cowbury and performed by Charlotte Melia. Here the cartography in question are the bodily scars left by a series of mishaps, disasters and self harm. There is an ambiguity of who the woman represents. Are the tales she tells a sign of her own troubled mind or a combination of people’s shared experiences. Certainly no one person would have experienced the Asian Tsunami, 9/11, conflicts in Palestine, Bagdad and Africa and a fiery plane crash. It’s performed with skill and cleverly directed by Clare Dunn but ultimately leaves many questions unanswered. This is one of those plays where one would benefit from some programme notes.
Soho Shorts demonstrates that there is a wealth of writing talent out there. Much like Summer Shorts at Pulse a few years ago, hopefully it will encourage local writers to try the challenge of conveying a convincing, self-contained, tale within just ten minutes.