For theatre-goers with a taste for variety and home-grown talent, the Minotaur Shorts Festival is not to be missed. Once a year, UEA’s student-led theatre company showcase the wide-ranging capabilities of its members through their festival of short plays. The Shorts Festival is an opportunity for writers, directors and performers to experiment, and it was a delight to spend two nights immersed in the immense theatrical talent we have here at UEA.
The festival was staged over a total of three nights, with twelve twenty-minute productions, each written, directed and starring UEA Drama students.
As with the previous festivals, this year’s offerings were thematically diverse, while still delivering the ‘impeccable quality’ that audiences have come to expect from the company; a description I believe proved apt, with only minor deviation. My attention caught while loitering in the foyer prior to the performance where I saw Alex Grauwiler’s outstanding promotional artwork, which deserves a special mention. Despite the lack of thematic similarity between the plays, the bold and cohesive imagery of the posters tied the shorts together as a series, while still encapsulating the individual flavour of each piece.
Opening the festival, Felines, Felines, by Alasdair Lindsay and Holly Richards, really delivered. The narrative follows a group of teenage boys at a sleepover when the host’s cat mysteriously goes missing. The audience were in fits throughout, especially whenever Kaya Lawrie-Plews looked fleetingly disgusted by the ‘laddish’ lines her character was spouting.
A stark shift in tone from the first piece, Rohan Gotobed’s Union offered a stylised, yet (ironically) down-to-earth exploration of the personal lives of the USSR’s first men in space. The minimalist aesthetic kept the focus on the human impact of the USSR’s decision to prioritise prestige over the life of famous cosmonaut, Vladamir Komarov. Although I found the narrative between scenes a little heavy-handed at times, the story was truly poignant.
Express by Alasdair Lindsay also engaged with personal themes, though in a rather different setting. On a train to Hatfield at four o’clock in the morning, three women find themselves in a carriage together and, through seventeen-year-old Molly’s untactful insistence, they get to know each other, and uncover some clashing values. Though Erin Clancy’s characterisation of the petulant Molly was superb, for me the narrative could have benefited from some attention to pace, as the rapidly escalating drama felt unrealistic at times.
The stand-out piece of the night was undoubtedly God in a Box, in which unsuspecting teenager Gretel stumbles upon a deity trapped inside a box. The god, flamboyantly played by David McCabe, is hopeful that he will ‘be a good god’ upon his release, a wish which proves futile when Heaven is revealed to be a stifling bureaucracy. A slew of charismatic performances and sharp dialogue made this sketch-like piece perfectly suited to the short-play format, and an excellent end to the first night of the festival.
The second night of the shorts was kicked off with Becky Pick’s Sweethearts, a moving story focused around two community service workers removing ‘lovelocks’ from a Parisian bridge. As the locks are removed the audience glimpse into the relationships of those who put them there. Lauren Ecclestone’s performances as dopey-yet-charming Gary, in Sweethearts and wine-quaffing yoga mum in the previous night’s God in a Box, were both outrageously entertaining; I look forward to seeing her comic talent in future productions!
Amongst the various humorous and sentimental shorts, Romero FM was a refreshing thriller. Set in a local radio station, Alex Hayes held her own as a radio DJ finally getting her big story: the beginning of a zombie apocalypse! An ambitious plot given the time constraints, I felt Romero FM might benefit from a longer format, which could bring more gravity to the tense moments. That said, it was still gripping and well-performed, evidence of budding talent from writer Alex Grauwiler.
Ella Dorman-Gajic’s Grading provided a much-needed reminder that the sexual abuse exposed by the #MeToo movement is not something which is limited to the world of Hollywood; the piece featured a teenage girl being blackmailed for sex by her teacher. Despite its contemporary pertinence, this short handled the difficult content a touch too carefully, and I was left unsure about what stance the piece was taking on the issues it presented.
Carnage by Molly-Rose Curran made a touching end to the night. The narrative followed three friends searching for answers about the missing, alcoholic mother of their late childhood friend. Although desperately sad, the play carried with it a sense that, after tragedy, hope can be recovered through shared experiences and friendships.