This year’s Minotaur Theatre Company Shorts Festival began with Kyle Flynn-Davies’ “Whispering Shadows”. Flynn-Davies’ script follows six residents in a nursing home, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the onset of Dementia, and their claustrophobic environment. The disease itself is never mentioned, yet Flynn-Davies clearly demonstrates the patients’ suffering – all of whom at different stages – from the minute the lights are turned on. Toby Skelton’s performance as Bill, the most suffering of the patients, impressed and captured the illness with a vacant and exhausted manner. Likewise, Katie Wood stood out with a nuanced comic performance as Beryl. Flynn-Davies does, however, struggle to provide an ‘exploration’ into Alzheimer’s, instead offering the audience an informative and well-detailed snapshot. Nevertheless, Flynn-Davies’ and Bobbi Sleafer-Nunes’ confident direction forced home an important message on the painful agony of Alzheimer’s sufferers.
The tone of the night shifted firmly with Adrian Moore’s appropriately-titled “Rom Com”. David Hinds plays Liam, the hopelessly (and quite noticeably deranged) romantic on a quest to steal the heart of his best friend Martia. The dialogue is unashamedly self-aware of the tropes of the romantic comedy genre, referencing Titanic and Love Actually to fits of laughter and applause. Moore cleverly contrasts the inevitable melodrama of romance with the logical reactions of bemusement, anger and genuine concern from his loved ones. With resigned determination, Hinds proclaims “It’s now or never, isn’t it?” “No. No it isn’t,” the reply. Hinds captures the utter sincerity of unrequited love perfectly, supported by a wonderfully-directed supporting performances. Every staging, music and lighting choice was sound and, although the script drops the comic tone in the final act, the production was hilarious enough to follow through to the end.
After a brief interval, the night moved on to Hannah John’s “Ink”. The premise focused on an existential question: how different would one’s life be if certain moments never happened, loved ones never met, aspirations never realised. We are introduced to Emma (Charmain Simmons), a struggling writer who dreams to get something, anything published. Emma then narrates to us two versions of her own life, played by Danielle Paterson and Anna Buttery, and we see a timeline of events that our narrator has obsessed over. Despite such an intriguing set-up, for me John’s play about storytelling, turning points and subjunctive history failed to execute a satisfying climax or dialogue to match the cerebral narration. The play ends in a gridlock, never fully answering the thought-provoking questions it raises.
The night ended on a glorious high-note with Pip Williams’ psychological two-hander “Apnea”. Williams presents us with the sleep-deprived patient Ed (Rob Cairns) and his psychiatrist Doctor Anderson (Sam Rees), playing out their meetings over a period of several weeks. Rob Cairns appears utterly consumed with the character’s ever-increasing anxiety, perfectly capturing the deepening nightmares and his soul-sucking sleep deprivation. Rees’ Doctor, completely unprepared to cure Ed and seemingly self-motivated, offers us a worthy and entertaining adversary. Williams provides both the actors and the audience with entertaining dialogue, three-dimensional characters and an intense psychological struggle for peace. The minimalist set contrasts effectively with the complex imagery in the dialogue, both Cairns and Rees delivering their parts outstandingly, all allowing the audience to sympathise and agonise along with the characters. At only twenty minutes, the one thing missing was more of it.
“Which character in The Great Gatsby would you fuck?” And so begins the first piece of the Minotaur Drama Shorts 2015. To New Neighbours starts with your everyman and everywoman Jools and Valerie, a happily married couple, who ponder this question while preparing for their neighbour’s cheese and wine evening. Meanwhile we cross over to next door to the hopeless Oliver and the panicky Patricia who is having what can only be described as one of the most middle class, first world problems as she stresses about hosting this cheese and wine evening. The hilarious events of the evening range from Jools creating makeshift champagne to Oliver and Jools jumping headfirst into a passionate snog that inspires Valerie and Patricia to follow suit. The ensemble of the opener are a treat to watch as they bounce around the stage in an extremely realistic yet hilarious portrayal of those awkward pauses, false laughs and rubbish small talk that occurs between new acquaintances.
While the first piece feels like a domestic comedy the next play could not be any more different in tone, content or themes. Blood, Screws and Tears takes place within a Borstal, a youth detention centre, in 1968 focusing on a lunchtime incident which resulted in the death of a black inmate and the subsequent cover up by Henderson, the corrupt guard. However, instead of using an ensemble like the previous play we hear about this injustice from the psychopathic Perceval who re-enacts the whole incident. It’s a show of how talented Jim Murrell is that we completely forget that it is literally just him setting up the scene with just a few props and the audience’s imagination. Perceval, although obviously a despicable human being, states “they treated us like shit, cos society saw us as shit, and that was that” criticising this system which was eventually abolished in 1982 through this electrifying performance.
The penultimate play Note to Self feels like a combination of the previous two plays in regards to tone as it starts off with a heavy monologue from Chrissy who talks about her co-worker at the post office, Avery, and then swoops into monologues from hilarious caricature characters. The first person to grace the stage with Chrissy and Avery is Mr Rogers, imagine a male Mrs Overall, a well-meaning yet incredibly slow OAP who is a masterclass in physical comedy. As Avery takes Chrissy through some of her favourite mail we are treated to the introduction of the three writers. They include Tammii – the most stereotypical teenage schoolgirl, Jim – the most sarcastic form filler and Grandma – the most outrageous…grandma. The big plot twist is revealed that Avery is suffering from dementia herself and has forgot who the letter she wrote herself for a mysterious Sarah was meant for. The addition of this late development does feel like a drastic change in direction and tone from the otherwise well-acted short.
The final piece of the evening is definitely the most thought provoking and eye opening pieces of drama overall. The piece deals with mental health disorder and the stigma around it which is noticeable as we witness an unnamed man’s mental and physical deterioration throughout the piece and his co-workers’ failure to help or talk to him. The actors are flawless seamlessly changing the set from one location to another and transforming into various characters at the drop of a hat. At the end of every day the man crawls into bed and is increasingly covered in more tar like liquid which marks his mental decline and physically shows how he is the elephant in the room as people can see the problem but do not approach him. The play manages to get this all across to the audience without a single word of dialogue. A powerful performance that left audience members speechless and many emotional from a gripping story and a brilliant cast.
We start the final night of the Minotaur Shorts with The Waiting Room, a gently paced play between a grandma and granddaughter who indulge in looking over old photos and dancing/singing classic Michael Jackson songs. The piece is very self-contained and while sometimes it is unclear where the play is going and what the director’s intention was there are moments where we get to witness the feisty grandma, a refreshing character that is usually neglected on stage. While the plot may appear to be fairly light and care free we finally get a hint at the real location of this ominous ‘waiting room’ as the lights gradually dim down and clues are dropped for the audience to pick up. “I made the candles in the church flicker…I’m always there, my love. I’m always there.” And with this we realise that the play is an imagined or dreamed conversation between the granddaughter and grandma who has sadly passed away, a bitter sweet ending which is heart-warming.
As Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas blares out over the speakers the audience seemingly perks up for a Christmas piece, surely? Nope, the play takes place during Boxing Day on a freezing cold beach between a friendship group who have an unnatural infatuation with Hawaiian clothing. What must be the most bizarre piece of the evening (and that’s saying something when up against the next play) takes two awkward Hawaiian shirt wearing-teens who can’t bring themselves to make the first move, a local eccentric armed with a metal detector and a Chinese finger trap which might be the first time these elements have been thrown together in a play, perhaps ever. There are some nice moments despite the uneven pace including when the prying friends literally handcuff the awkward two together and the cast give their best performances, such as the witty Brad and the ever enthusiastic Laura.
Cor Blimey is a lesson to all comedy plays, taking a simple plot of a day in the life of straight laced cop Bill Williams and his wife Philippa Williams who is more interested in his boss, Roger Barnes, with hilarious results. Not a second of dialogue is wasted with a superb script from Tom Mason which is brought to life by a fantastic cast who are having a ball being as ridiculous as the script demands them be. When Ollie McFadden as Roger delivers lines like “do you know how hard it is to give a public announcement with fire in my loins?” it’s impossible to keep a straight face whether you’re eight or 80. Jim Murrell’s try-hard PCSO Bill Williams is tasked with carrying the majority of the play which he handles with no problem at all with hilarious deadpan asides to the audience, an even greater feat considering he played psychopathic prisoner Percival in a one man play the day before. Attempting to describe what made the play an absolute triumph is impossible to put on paper but by the end the audience clearly would have been happy watching another hour or two of this brilliantly executed cop parody short.
Larksong had the seemingly impossible task of following the slapstick comedy but it does so by changing genre, topic and time period. The play serves as a retelling of Joan of Arc’s story using predominately ensemble movement and choral speaking which allowed some beautiful choreography and powerful chorus work. Leading the brilliant cast is Betsy Robertson as the legendary Joan who dismisses the notion that “women are weak, women cannot lead…it is written”. As someone who was completely unfamiliar with Joan of Arc’s struggle the play acted as a more accessible history lesson which was educational while also visually entertaining. The play allowed us to witness Joan conquering people’s prejudices from her being denied the opportunity to see the King or high ranking officials belittling her to her final sacrifice as she refuses to surrender her values and be burnt instead. The message to never stop raging against the fire is both empowering and inspirational for all to watch.