Tuesday 9 July 2013

Short and Stark – Southwark Playhouse

Everything I've Ever Done Wrong / Fairtale of New York / Polly Brown / The Dim

As it happens, I’d not seen any of the pieces in Short and Stark before, and have no idea what process lies behind their curation. I don’t know if Joel just handed the company responsible – UrgentTheatre – every short play he’s ever written (of which he says there are a frightening number) and let them choose, or whether he gave them specifically these four. For example, I’d have been quite interested to see the two short plays I remember seeing by Horwood again – his piece for Paines Plough’s Come To Where I’m From and his contribution to Slung Low’s Beyond the Frontline.

This latter, I described at the time as: “typical of [Horwood's] writing: touching recollections of adolescence, some excellent jokes, and a real emotional kick at the end. Simple but effective.” Which I think reflected my experience of his other long plays that I’d seen (Mikey the Pikey, Food, I Caught Crabs in Wallberswick) up to that point.

The pieces in Short and Stark are notably a bit grimmer and more gross-out than the above description suggests (well, ok, maybe not more grim or gross-out than the blood-soaked, heavy-metal-singing abortionist scene in Mikey...). And I think they’re mostly older pieces. Mostly older than 2010, would be my guess. Which is interesting, since I think Horwood has kind of changed as a writer since then. I happened to have a chat with the designer (not of Short and Stark, I hasten to add) Tom Scutt after seeing the show on Wednesday and he reminded me of the sheer change of gear that I [heart] Peterborough had been in Horwood’s writing. And of course there were all those Lyric pantos that I cleverly avoided by being in Germany (and by never going to pantos).

As such, whilst reasonably well-directed and performed, these do already feel a bit like stagings of baby photos. Or perhaps that’s me just reacting to the less-than-idealised or optimistic picture of humanity that these four pieces collectively create.

[and then, when I’d written that, I got this useful note through from the Southwark Playhouse of Joel’s programme notes for the evening which I think usefully both comfirm some of my above perceptions, but also make me realise how others are quite off-beam]

"The short-plays you are seeing tonight were all written some time ago for the many and various ‘shorts nights’ that proliferate the London theatre fringe. Although some of these ‘shorts’ went on to form the spines or starting points for other projects, I intended to explore how a writer can create a complete experience or communication in a limited amount of time.

"The short form is something that Beckett mastered and involves skills entirely different to the writing of full-length plays but that flex some of the same muscles. I found that the short form was incredibly useful for my experiments in theatricality, dialogue and form. I am still hoping to write a short play that achieves anything like the effect of Not I or Play.

"The Dim was originally written for a short plays evening hosted by Nabokov in 2006. I used it as a work in progress showing to establish how I might write in my own dialect and how I could use music to support action. This went on to become a full-length play entitled Stoopud Fucken Animals which played at The Traverse in 2007,

"Fairytale of New York was written for PlayList at Christmas 2010. PlayList asked writers to select a song to take as their starting point. It being Christmas I selected the song of the same title by Kirsty McColl and The Pogues.

"Everything I’ve Ever Done Wrong (Amplified) was commissioned by Nabokov in 2008 to complete a trilogy entitled Is Everyone OK? Each of these three plays, with inspiration from Lucy Kerbel (of Tonic theatre company), were designed to be played with a microphone as per a stand-up gig. This cycle of short plays toured with Nabokov for several years due to an ingenious ‘pop-up’ tour schedule devised by George Perrin and James Grieve.

"Polly Brown was conceived as part of SuddenLossOfDignity.com, a theatre sketch show for The Bush. For various reasons, it was not performed as part of that show in this form, so I re-visited it as the underscore to a piece of contemporary dance choreographed by Ann Yee for DryWrite’s Dance Radio. It has since been published as a short story and has peeked my interests in both working more closely with contemporary dance and for writing prose."

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