At the Kinneksbond cultural centre in Mamer
Of the eleven short plays on view therefore only three were by local writers. But if the change was due to uncertainty about local talents, those three demonstrated caution was maybe not necessary since they stood up well against the foreign competition.
In fact, easily the most successful in terms of audience response was the home grown “A Star to Steer Her By”, a vehicle both literally and metaphorically written and also directed by Erik Abbott and brilliantly played by Adrian Diffey, Chris Wilson, he at the steering wheel, determined to follow his own route, she in the passenger seat, initially querulous, later resigned, and by Andrew Stewart as an ever more frustrated satnav device.
Erik’s direction was lightly controlled, which was all that was needed given both the playing and his own script, but the pauses between the promptly ignored satnav instructions were perfectly timed. And just as it seemed the joke might wear out, yet another twist came along – as when the satnav, following a near upset, suddenly switches to German adding a dose of nationalism to the struggle between machine and self-willed – and eventually successful – man.
And the names of the villages on the route grew ever longer and more improbably rustic – I could hardly stop laughing, which is why I am sadly unable to quote you any of them.
Of the other two local ingredients, Celeste Koehler, whose Goodbye Avis was the best entry in the 2009 festival, came up with A Recipe to Remember, a successful sad but sweet depiction of two sisters charged with looking after their Alzheimer’s victim mother. The trap here would have been to make the piece too long or too maudlin or too banal, but the trap was avoided, both by the writer and the director (Bjørn Clausen, better known hereabouts as an actor).
All three parts were played by members of the Milne family, sisters Carolyn and Jacqueline as the two sisters, and mother Angela as the mother. Carolyn and Jacqueline were both convincing, describing both their problems with their mother, and their memories of happier times, but Angela rather stole the piece, sitting at a table mindlessly shuffling and stamping papers, until right at the end when some home made apple sauce triggers off a flash of memory or at least habit and she speaks for the first and only time.
The third local piece was an interesting offering from Barbara Hall, also better known as an actress, the enigmatic InterNed (sic), directed by Fran Potasnik. Ned (Adrian Diffey) sits in what seems to be a cell, with one door and a window, and the piece is one long soliloquy, which he and the director manage to hold your interest in. The text itself refers to The Dumb Waiter and Godot, more than hinting that surface appearances may not be as they seem.
What they seem to be is a prisoner in a cell (alone but remembering there having been a companion) fed occasionally from a trolley pushed through the door, and continually viewing from a small window a scene in which a car coming up to a colour changing traffic light either kills or does not kill – we don’t know, neither does Ned – a child. Eventually Ned finds the door open, and passes on through.
After theatre discussions showed how many different meanings might be assignable to the piece. Initially I went myself for a link to Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real, with Ned awaiting release from suffering, as Williams’ characters await their rescuing aircraft. Then I thought maybe Ned was the driver of a car that did so kill a boy, and now relives continually that experience. And then – but to each his own.
It seems to me that this short format, no matter how many minutes, favours raising questions more than answering them. InterNed does that in spades.
So perhaps at first sight does Pipedreams, directed by Timothy Lone and written by Sarah van Parys, Dutch but currently studying drama in Liverpool. Unlike InterNed however, there is no outer meaning here that makes sense even without interpretation. Nothing happens in InterNed that couldn’t happen in real life, whereas Pipedreams takes Pirandelloesque swipes at reality, with a narrator (Chris Albrecht) rearranging events at will in an attempt to make the lead female (Valerie Scott) find at least temporary happiness, though all he does is strengthen the unhappiness that has her apathetically sitting on her sofa.
Debt collectors pile up, each demanding payment at 5 pm; happily rollicking mourners strew flowers from the funeral of her husband, due to die the following week: and so on. A happy ending, gloomily predicts the narrator periodically, is impossible. Which may be the message of the play, if an unduly pessimistic one, though if we aren’t in Pirandello land we are well into Ionesco territory, where questions are not meant to be answered, or even asked.
The meaning of the play is not necessarily a more acceptable question than the meaning of life.
Literary links came to mind also with The Sum of Your Experience, in which a mugger (John Brigg) holds up a stranger (Victor Bonanno) to steal, not his money, but his dreams. Someone who lives on sucking out the memories and stories of passing strangers sounds like a Ray Bradbury character (though I don’t think he ever used the concept). Directed by Chris Wilson and written by American Trace Crawford the play narrowly escaped being too long, and was somewhat spoilt by an overloud, and, as far as one could tell, irrelevant foghorn effect, presumably to underline significant moments in the development, though the particular significance of each moment escaped me.
That apart the concept was interesting and the climax as the victim, shorn of his memories, stares at the gun the thief had given him in return, excellent, as was the pace with which the emotional tension built up, and the unobtrusive but effective movement around the stage, for which director and actors all deserve congratulation.
Airports and current conditions in them, at least in the US, though infection is threatened elsewhere, provided a backing for two pieces, a opening scene set in a busy lounge with pretty well everyone connected with the festival on stage as passengers baffled by impossible to follow announcements on the PA system; and an encounter of one passenger (Andrew Stewart) with two female security guards (Louisa Graf and Betsy Adams).
The first, with no text credited but concept and direction credited to Deborah Anderson, the co-ordinating director of the evening as a whole, named simply AIRPORT got the evening off to a cheerful start, and the second Cavity Search, by the experienced American playwright Brett Hursey, and also directed by Deborah Anderson, was well acted and directed, but the simple joke ran on far too long. Another sufferer probably from taking the ten-minute tag too seriously.
In contrast, the tiny sentimental if oddly named GRTC-Metropolitan Rapid Transit, by Irene Ziegler, another experienced American, directed by Timothy Lone, ran for under five minutes and was perfectly tailored to that time. A small girl (Dana Smits) on a bus reaches the terminus, sits there waiting to return, tells the driver (Karl Pierce) and one passenger (Marie-Paule Brimeyer) she is not lost, and explains she rides so she can hear her mother’s voice on the PA system. When the bus starts off again, her mother’s voice comes on.
Simple, short, unaffected, all that one needs, and all that one gets. Why she has to ride the bus to hear her mother, we don’t know. We don’t even know if she has to ride the bus. And it doesn’t really matter.
A fantastic miniature.
30-Love, by Terry McFadden, a Hollywood writer, and directed by Deborah Anderson, could have done with a better title. The theme is OK – the divorce negotiations between a husband and wife as to who gets how much are initially symbolised by them playing tennis and changing the score board presumably in theory as each scores points. But the board quickly goes to 15-0 then 30-0 as the husband gets two concessions – and there it sticks, never referred to again or changed in the entire course of the play, although of course the audience is waiting for something to happen with it.
In the negotiations the two finally settle, with a serious hint that they may resume relations. So the hanging 30-0 scoreboard makes no sense. ‘Deuce’ would seem to be called for, but then I assume the title would have to change.
It’s sad because apart from that the piece is well directed and acted (by Karl Pierce and Fran Potasnik).
The two remaining plays rather got away from me. The Circle of Life Can Make One Dizzy was a David Ives–like piece by Canadian Len Cuthbert and directed by Chris Wilson, concerning a married couple (Victor Bonanno and Elaine Falzon) who can get together for only ten minutes a week, given their work timetables – he is an airline pilot, she a Broadway actress. He suggests it’s time they started a family, she explains how that is impossible.
I can see no reason that justifies going on for ten minutes nor why it has any serious interest apart from its implausibility. Or that it would do even if I could have understood all that the wife was saying.
Finally there was American James McLinden’s Deer, apparently an examination of teenage angst and family relationships as displayed by a family of deer (Louisa Graf, Lena Hoss, Valerie Scott and Noa Smits) wearing variable sized crowns of antlers but otherwise undistinguishable. Despite the normal talents of director Erik Abbott, they seemed to move randomly across, and on and off stage, but anyway since I couldn’t understand what the young deer was saying to the elder ones, or tell the difference beween them apart from the familiar figure of Valerie Scott, I don’t really know how random they were.
But that was exceptional. The whole evening was a distinct advance from the original festival, and presumably bodes well for the future.
Even though I will continue to grumble about the use of the term ‘ten-minute’ play.
By Graham Cleverley