Review: Top 40 Week 2 – Short+Sweet Dubai 2017

Review: Top 40 Week 2 – Short+Sweet Dubai 2017


Top 40 Week 2 was a relieving and satisfying reminder of how much the arts have grown and improved in the country in the last decade. So much talent and creativity was on display to (another) sold-out audience. Some years back, it would have been difficult to imagine seeing this many solidly directed and performed plays.

Like last week, there were no cringeworthy plays (mostly). But unlike last week, there were more than a few great plays. We’ve professed how we love Short+Sweet for its mixed-bag. However, when it comes to quality, this week was less mixed, and was mostly solid.

“Curtain Call” at tech rehearsal

The Composition

Where it was less mixed in quality (to the positive), it was very mixed in the variety of styles and genres of theatre. Comedy, drama, horror, romance, satire, poetry, romance… all available in one evening. Just proof that Short+Sweet is really made for a quickly-consumed-media generation, because this evening provided some great pop-and-don’t-stop consumable theatre.

Festival Director Liz Hadaway assembled the evening with a flow to crescendo. No one piece felt out of place in the line-up and the themes were varied, keeping interest from beginning to end. At the interval, there was no doubt that we were eager and ready to kick of the second half, and we were not disappointed. The second half did seem much stronger than the first, ending on three great plays. However, it did give a bit of imbalance to the evening, but as mentioned before, this felt more like a crescendo than a lopsided disfigurement.

Where technical teams were praised last week, this week saw a few goofs, some of which were more noticeable than others.

  • A few moments of missed sound cues and imbalanced (loud) audio levels
  • A missed projector screen for Lein Meta’s subtitles
  • Missing furniture. This wasn’t noticeable, but one could feel the actors reworking their blocking. (Bake Off)
  • Lights on before crew was off stage.

Lighting has significantly improved over last year’s festival though and still seems to be solid. A compliment should be given to writers and directors who are learning to choose less complicated lighting effects for a short play.

The Verdict

GO. Just go. Really if it is not a full-house tomorrow evening, we’ll be disappointed. This is a great opportunity to do something different in the night and to see some great plays and good art.

The Play by Play

This week was a great one. Most plays were good, if not great. There were a few that missed the mark, but didn’t flail around in agony like others we’ve seen in the past. So, many of the comments on these plays are relatively minor (but not on all.)

1. Next

Large casts are difficult to manage. Large casts who must change character throughout the play, well, that’s setting up for failure. However, it didn’t fail. It missed the mark though, with inconsistent acting and difficult to understand line delivery. But it did succeed in keeping energy and pace high. And the concept was delivered with some good laughs from the audience.

The script is a challenging one to put on, but it definitely has its merits. However, it could benefit from some tightening. Chop the length of the first section and get to the moment of the “play within a play” sooner, otherwise it drags a bit with so much repetition in the first part, especially since the audience is expecting an interruption (for at least 4 – 5 minutes). At that point, the presence of the “director” and “writer” on stage (who, script-wise, feel a bit pointless)  has already setup the moment.

Not a total misfire, but room for improvement on all three sides (i.e. acting, direction, and writing.)

2. I Was There

This script was a perfect choice for the age group and this is another play which shows the skill and level that the American School of Dubai brings to the local theatre scene (as mentioned in our Wildcards 2 review.) A drama teacher’s work is fully on display here. The blocking, the raking of the stage, the vocal work (clear, articulate diction and projection), the pacing and picking up of cues were all impeccable.

Given this is such an emotional piece, I would have liked to have seen a bit more from the acting, but to be fair, these are students still finding a voice  and working with difficult material and a terrifying subject matter. I was still emotionally invested, hanging on every word. Kudos to the ASD team on this one. It was at this point, it was obvious the audience was in for a good night.

“I Was There” at tech rehearsals

3. Curtain Call

Seán Ó Súilleabháin can write dialogue and characters – believable dialogue and believable characters. He can even weave a universe and story together. This piece overall was quite good, with strong writing and wonderful acting and characterization. The quality was there.

However, as good as the writing may have been and as strong as the quality of acting was, this piece was just too slow and plodding to engage interest the whole time. The material itself was a bit inaccessible with undoubtedly at least half of the audience wondering what was going on (while feeling less engaged.) This piece, while good, won’t be for everyone.

One minor note: projection from the actors needs to be worked on. I was front row and still straining to hear.

4. Happy Death Day to You (Lunar Eclipse Part 2)

During the Alex Broun Play Festival, our One Mad Camel made a comment about director Pawan Manghnani choosing to send at least one actor into the aisle for each of the Aish Outt Productions’ plays. Well, not one to be proven wrong, Pawan sent the entire cast (and practically the whole play) into the aisle and the audience. To his credit, this worked. (Go all or nothing?) The gimmicks of the play: the non-traditional stage, lighting effects, water effects (yes, really), the voices, these are what worked about the play. But it still missed out on what it could be.

It was obvious what Pawan was attempting to do: a B-grade horror (horror comedy, really). But it did not succeed due to misunderstood and weak delivery by the cast, and slow pacing. The tension was never heightened, and therefore no interest developed in the story (whether horror or not.) The script itself is not as bad as some might feel. Pawan’s vision in the script can be seen, but with missed delivery, it just runs into a brick wall.

That said, I still would want to see this again just for the fun of it all. Pawan knows how to amuse an audience.

5. Bake Off

What a way to end the first act! This was a fun, self-effacing, Dubai-referencing, witty and tight comedy. Over-the-top as it may be (purposefully and necessarily), it seems entirely believable. The writing was very good, incredibly tight and plays to the strength of the performers well. This was a great piece.

There are minor tweaks that could improve it further. Greater projection and energy will bring more of the audience in. And the action needs to crescendo more towards the later scenes (which I don’t want to spoil.) Lighting on stage right should be added since one character keeps drifting into shadow. Also, a note to all actors, not just Bake Off, don’t deliver lines over audience laughter. Wait until you can be heard. Adjust these points, and something great will become even better and a possible choice.

6. Leave This Town

This piece was from the 48-hour Theatre Festival and it should be noted that it was written in 24 hours then directed and performed in 24 hours. So, for a script written in 24 hours, it shows its lack of polish. It features a completely unnecessary scene change and poor plot development and unanswered questions (e.g. why does having HIV excuse this man from leaving?)

The acting was inconsistent – each actor was seemingly performing in an entirely different play. Most were acting well, but it was disjointed with no connection and chemistry between the cast, and entirely different styles being presented. Nothing cringeworthy, but it wasn’t good.

7. Diary of a Break-up/Break-down

An absolutely solid piece all around. Directed with contemporary theatre in mind, every prop had a purpose (and there were a lot of props), every motion was intentional and every action had a reason. Nothing was forced. The characters were believable and the script is one of Alex Broun’s tightest. It should be mentioned that this was performed during the Alex Broun Play Festival, and I felt much more at home here. Slightly improved as well.

The only negative comments might be that the Whitney Houston bit lasts a little too long. The actors are slightly imbalanced, with one being stronger than the other, though not badly so. This one I could watch numerous times, just to watch both sides of the stage unfold in flawless action and syncronicity.

If you have been through a break-up, you will feel this one. Completely. Maybe this is why I stay single.

Diary of a Break-up/Break-down at tech rehearsals

8. The Landlady

I cannot think of a thing that should have been changed or improved with this piece. It was practically flawless. The casting could not have been made better, the characters were delivered with perfection. Every moment was delivered with care and attention.

The only complaint that could possibly be made is that they played it very safe in a traditional theatre setup. But, when delivered so well, can they be faulted? All compliments to director Lucy McFeely who is going to be on the radar to watch for some time.

9. Lein Meta

Rosine Saad’s (one of our Camel Stub contributors) script and direction are fully on display here, as would be expected from the winner of last year’s Best Script award. A comedy (in Arabic) playing on stereotypes and local Arab culture. Unfortunately, during the opening night, the subtitles failed to play (tech team error), but you would not need to understand Arabic to know what is going on in this play. It would help with showing how hilarious some of the lines are though. Hopefully, the second night will go off without a hitch.

The performances were strong, though with such a great comedy, I would hope for them to be just ever-so-slightly bigger, more grandiose. Draw out the pained cry more. Draw out the exasperation more. The pacing was adequate throughout the play, and I was enjoying and engaged with every moment, even at the moment of sudden change.

Without spoiling the play, it takes a dramatically different turn and switches off at a point to go into a poem, written by local poet (and actor in the play) Afra Atiq. Her delivery of the piece was beautifully emotional, personal and deeply relevant. Normally, explaining a play or preaching the point is irksome in the least and, more often than not, ends up killing it. It generally disrespects the intelligence of the audience. But not here. This was part of the play, it was relevant and was the entire motivation. It could have been made slightly more effective by diving back into the play and giving a punchline, but I respect why there wasn’t one.

Lein Meta was a polishing touch on an already great night of theatre.

The Results

Kudos to Liz and the whole team on a great night of theatre which shows just how far this great city has come artistically.

Here are the results (updated 11:23pm 11/2/2017)

Judge’s Choice:

  • 1st – The Landlady (on to the Gala Final)
  • 2nd – Diary of a Break-up/Break-down (on to the Gala Final)
  • 3rd – I Was There

People’s Choice:

  • 1st -The Landlady (already on to the Gala Final by judge’s selection)
  • 2nd – Diary of a Break-up/Break-down (already on the the Gala Final by judge’s selection)
  • 3rd – Bake Off (on to the People’s Choice Semi-Final)
  • 4th – Happy Death Day to You (on to the People’s Choice Semi-Final)

See you at next week’s Top 40 which is expected to be an equally good lineup. We will be handing over to an anonymous reviewer seeing as how Phil, Lamya, Emma and Rosine will all be part of that line-up in different ways.


About author
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Phil Apaza

On and around the stage since age 7, Phil has been on nearly every side of it, both professional and amateur. He has been involved in over 100 productions, from major corporate and government events to playing an on-stage prop in a walk-on role.

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