By Therese Cloonan, Pat Van Der Werf & Chris Howlett
Directed by Greg Carroll
With Ella Caldwell, Verity Charlton, Brett Cousins, Laura Gordon, Dion Mills & David Whiteley
Red Shorts (November 12 – 23)- Jim Murphy, The Age 18-Nov-03
The three winning short plays from among more than 200 entries in Red Stitch’s inaugural competition for new Australian writing are good acting pieces that together constitute a varied and eminently satisfying night of theatre.
Six actors share the 14 roles, under the banner “Red Shorts”, that allow them to display their versatility and provides a linking thread to plays that otherwise have nothing in common. It is a little strange that director Greg Carroll chooses to run them one after another with only a short blackout between.
Since none has a clear curtain line, you’re inclined to find that what you thought was a change of costume turns out to be the same actors in a different play. But perhaps that just adds to the mix.
“Skin Deep” by Therese Cloonan takes a fresh approach to the eternal triangle, involving contributions from a pet dog and a saucy devil (both acted brightly by Verity Charlton) and parents depicted as dolls in a Punch and Judy theatre.
Patrick Van Der Werf’s “Shelter” is an unsettling story of a couple in a lonely country house playing reluctant hosts to a pregnant woman and her suspicious companion whose car has broken down on a wet night. Dion Mills and Ella Caldwell are strikingly good as the visitors, and the well-constructed piece generates a nice sense of menace as the characters are pitted variously against each other, and conflicts emerge.
Then it’s off to the great void for “Johnny Flip’s Fate” by Chris Howlett, a light-hearted insight into the way Fate, a bureaucrat of the most listless kind (well, how enthusiatic would you be if you knew everything in advance?), arranges our lives by twiddling dials and pulling levers on an antediluvian control panel.
Fate (stylishly played by David Whiteley) has to remedy a glitch in the cosmis order by locating a human named Johnny Flip and persuading him to swap his existence with anyone in history.
When dull Johnny (a delightfully droll Brett Cousins) turns out to be incapable of seeing the benefits of such a move, Fate sends his glamorous assistant (Laura Gordon).
In the atmospheric little theatre, the three plays, which collectively run for 90 minutes, are a great advertisement for new writing talent.
All credit to Red Stitch, with the support of the Cultural Development Fund of the City of Port Phillip, for the initiative.