Gryphon Theatre
December 9-12 | Reviewed by Kate Blackhurst

THE FIVE playlets that comprise Summer Shorts all rely heavily on the power of dialogue and the ‘reveal’ (the aha moment). It is hard to pull this off in a short space of time, as there are limited foundations to be laid, and some of the plays work better than others. Due to some slick scene changes however, the pieces fit together well and the momentum is maintained.

The evening kicks off with Fault (written by Sam Fisher; directed by Bex Wetherhead) in which a couple dissect their relationship. Alistair (Nick Zwart) and Jane (Kate Clarkin) sit side-by-side at a counselling session but it soon becomes clear that there are two sides to every story as they each act out their own version of events. The other actors, Rachel (Rose Guise) and Jason (Paul Waggot) remain on the stage throughout to flesh out the accounts.

Nothing in a relationship is black and white, as the shifting carpet squares – laid out on the stage like a chess board – can attest. Once things start going wrong, is it possible to right them again? Should you apportion blame or just walk away? The repetitive dialogue doesn’t go anywhere, which could be a sign of improvisation, or it could parallel the downward spiral of a failing relationship.

Nick Zwart acts differently in each adaptation; sympathetic in one and a complete bastard in the other. It’s easy to agree with Jason who says ‘everyone thinks you should leave her’ as Jane stomps around barefoot and bristling with confrontation. Although her portrayal of each version is too similar for the reveal to be truly effective, she does get the best line – ‘I’m not unstable; I’m just depressed.’

We are ready for the high energy intro to The Intervention (written by Jeff Whitty; directed by Vivien Bell) as the characters burst onto a set occupied by a couple of beat-up sofas, and proceed to explain the stage directions. Alec (Phil Darkins), Rita (Sara Velasquez), and Shannon (Jo Crilly) read out testimonials lecturing Shannon’s brother, Tom (Nathan Green) on why he should give up drinking.

They claim to ‘love you like crazy’, ask him to ‘accept the help I’m offering today’, and present him with a box. In a theatre convention if a box is placed in front of someone and they don’t open it straight away, you know that it conceals something of importance. The ruse is perpetrated by Shannon’s new actor boyfriend, Sven (Walter McGinnis) which just goes to prove you should never trust an actor. Although you can see the revelation coming, the dialogue is good and the pauses well-worked.

The shortest and sharpest piece is Breaking and Entering (written and directed by Dean Hewison) in which two bungling burglars Robbie (Simon Smith) and Cole (Jonny Potts) break into a house and attempt to pull off a heist with Guy Ritchie–esque dialogue and attention to detail. Their cover is blown when the homeowners (Marjorie McKee and Barry Lakeman) return unexpectedly and things take several dramatic and comic turns. At a running time of about five minutes, this is a perfect piece of ensemble acting and scriptwriting.

The Mamet Women (written by Frederick Stroppel; directed by Phil Darkins) is another highlight with its superb dialogue and fast pace. Stuffed full of quotable bons mots, (‘I’m speaking ethics; you’re speaking bullshit’) it mocks all preceding theatre conventions by making the reveal simply ludicrous. The words are so much more than the action, and Jo Crilly and Barbara Woods handle the hyperbolic script with aplomb.

Nothing really happens, which makes the exaggerated use of lighting and music all the more amusing. Imagine if speechwriters approached an everyday event with the tri-colon factor (as popularised by Barack Obama’s acceptance speech) – ‘the opportunity missed: the hand not shaken: the back unscratched’.

If I Said You Have a Heavenly Body (written by Andre Surridge; directed by Rodney Bane) wraps up the programme. The fact that it begins with ‘Oh for the wings of a dove’ – Hitler’s favourite song – makes it hard to shake the Teutonic connotations. Angela (Sophia Elisabeth) lacks humour but loves surveillance and bureaucracy which only heightens the similarities.

She guards the pearly gates and interrogates John (Todd Rippon) when he finds himself there unexpectedly; he thought he was going down below, but admittance standards have been lowered. Although in heaven women outnumber men seven to one, the fact that there is no smoking, drinking, sport or gambling makes ‘the other place’ look increasingly desirable.

The direction is fine (although when will we get over the fact that dishabille in itself is not especially funny?) but the script is a little obvious and stilted. The actors do their best, but they look like they are keen to get it over with towards the end of the skit.

Summer Shorts is an entertaining selection of vignettes with varied themes and a high calibre of acting. Midweek in December is a hard slot to fill, with all the other demands on time and money, especially as the season only lasts for four nights. Although the meat of this show is decidedly in the middle, it would be a more enjoyable night’s entertainment than many an office party meal.