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.
Short+Sweet Dubai 2017 continued on Saturday, February 4th with the first Wildcards event, bringing Dubai residents something different to do for a weekend afternoon. Unlike the Top 40, the Wildcards tend to have more experimentation and more risk, making the atmosphere more supportive and communal than the competitive Top 40. But, make no mistakes, many of the participants are competitive and look forward to proving their theatrical chops.
This risk-taking quite often makes the Wildcards more enjoyable than the Top 40 in a different way. The range is greater. Sometimes one is met with a risky, but refreshingly creative success, displaying a different take on traditional theatre. Other times the viewer is left cringing at a dead delivery and experimental art of which only the director understands.
Wildcards 1 did not have any majorly cringe-worthy plays. The afternoon was fun with some quality on display, and with some new talent taking their first breaths and steps on stage to mixed effect. The platform Short+Sweet provides for newcomers was on full display this time, with a number of student groups and first timers treading the proverbial boards and creating art. Knowing that the Wildcards is more often about the process levels the audience’s expectations in advance, creating a better atmosphere and spirit. Some of it is good theatre, some isn’t. But the event as a whole is entirely and thoroughly enjoyable.
The technical crew had a couple of minor missed cues, but all-in-all the afternoon went with no major errors. Cats could have learned something here.
Festival Director Liz Hadaway once again brought a well-thought flow to the event with a nice mix of comedies and dramas, and a running order which did not bear down too heavy on one side or the other. It would be difficult for her to know in advance which ones were going to be successful and which were flops, but none of one “class” seemed to be grouped together too much.
Well, there only one show, so we can’t tell you to go. But we would tell you to go if you could. Again, this is not a big spectacle or a professional troupe. Going in with the expectation that this is a creative process and a showcase of new or experimental talent will allow one to truly enjoy a great afternoon. Go to this week’s Wildcards 2 for a similar vibe and for a good afternoon. And you don’t lose an evening doing it. To quote the group sitting behind me, “we really should do this more often. Why don’t we?”
The Play by Play
Bearing everything mentioned above in mind – expectations of it being a creative process and new talent on stage – the reviews of each piece below are significantly less critical than what we would give for professional theatre and even, to some degree, the Top 40. And these focus a bit more on mechanics and the creative aspects.
1. Adopt or What?
This play came straight off of Short+Sweet Abu Dhabi 2017 and it seems to have improved ever-so-slightly, on something that I already enjoyed quite a bit. It has a gripping, voyeuristic nature and realism (until the end). The acting is visceral and from the core. Though the acting was real, the script could be faulted for leaning a bit to the melodramatic side.
Sanoop Dinesh’s direction makes me respect every decision up-and-until a great moment of critical confusion. In the last minute or two of the play, the suddenly choreographed movements and dialogue between the actors in a spotlight jar the audience out of a style of realism and into performance art. As a director, to violently change the way your universe works is an interesting choice, though I understand the intent and purpose here. This moment is so subjectively viewed that I, the reviewer, cannot decide whether I love or hate it… even now, days later (three week’s later, to be fair.)
It is memorable, to say the least.
An enjoyable and tight script, but a difficult one to deliver and direct. The pace was kept appropriately snappy, especially necessary for a comedy script where a missed cue would kill the whole play. But it could still use some tightening, especially in delivery, which saw varied qualities of performances from each of the actors. It was quite enjoyable nonetheless.
Also, a typical issue with a number of Wildcards plays and less experienced directors: there was too much furniture for this play. Apologies for using this play as an example, as this was by no means the worst offender, but it is a note that should be made to all directors: do not throw in unnecessary tables and boards to set your scene. Let the performers, dialogue and audience imagination do the job. If you can’t see the “scene”, then you need to bring more out of the performance. (Generally speaking.)
3. Objectum Sexuality
A script that, while funny, might think it’s a bit more clever than it is. Of course, that all depends on delivery and Heriot-Watt University can’t be faulted for choosing this, since it is great material to work with. As students, it is difficult getting out there on the same platform as professionals and adult amateur groups. It is noteworthy that students often experiment with stylistic choices, some of which are good to see, others of which often leave the audience asking why.
In this case, I was left wondering why there was a need to break the fourth wall and look to the audience on a few occasions. Also, why was one of the actors in profile the entire time? But it was good to see students experimenting a bit and trying techniques out and building their craft.
4. The Lady and “The Tyger” or William Blake’s “How I Met Your Mother”
In my time as a student there, the American University in Dubai had a drama club which was on its last legs, dying a painful death. I’m happy to see a new drama club has taken its place which has entered into Short+Sweet the last few years now. This drama society has a much more experimental style and that might not be palatable or understood by all audiences. Much like Heriot-Watt above, I will applaud their efforts to experiment and determine what works and what doesn’t.
The acting was a bit imbalanced, with an incredibly strong performer on one hand and a good, but more reserved performer on the other. I found myself straining to understand words, not because of projection issues, but because of diction and articulation issues. That happens in many plays often, especially in Dubai where accents can be a challenge. Final thought: I understand the intention behind having the busker playing music in the background on stage and with having a choreographed movement scene, but it felt a bit disjointed and odd.
5. Masochism Tango
Drama Galleries keep impressing me with their growth, their direction choices and their alternative styles of staging. They are emerging as a contending group who choose to forge forward with confidence in their direction choices.
This piece was a wonderfully choreographed sequence and the performers carry their characters well. I would prefer a bit more confidence and clarity in the vocals, but really, I loved this play even without it. Part dance (hence “Tango”), part lovers quarrel (haters quarrel?), part pick-up… it all worked and gelled.
There were some nice detailed touches too, like the matching costume color choices. But, with details comes an invitation to scrutinize. Don’t put whisky in a champagne flute. Also, while the lighting state changes are understandable, the play could have considered limiting them or possibly making them more dramatic. Either, or.
6. The Re-birth of the Pre-Menopausal Widow
Another piece from Short+Sweet Abu Dhabi 2017. Tashia Dorsey has brought her PM Widow act, in different incarnations and skits, to many different venues now. It’s a character that Tashia can fall into with relative ease. Her force of personality and strength with the character make it obvious why the judges chose this piece as top pick. There isn’t a moment in scene when you are not engaged with her or believing her, even in this case when I have already seen this act multiple times. The three bits she chose to perform this time showed a nice progression and have been written well to suit the dialogue (and dialect) of the character.
However, there are a few dips in pacing when the scene changes happen. This was much improved over S+S Abu Dhabi as she changes in color and while moving on stage, instead of in black. But, reducing the time on this would improve the piece further.
7. No More Mr. Nice Guy
There are many great drama teachers in the UAE (many of them friends of ours), but the American School of Dubai (ASD) not only has good instruction, but great facilities to match, and great student talent rolling through. ASD puts together solid student pieces, and No More Mr. Nice Guy is no exception. While there was a little fumbling of lines, and some energy and projection issues, the students of this production showed a great range of acting talents.
Watching younger students play middle-aged characters is always a bit amusing, but some really pulled off their characters in a fair and believable manner. I’m not partial to the usage of the full width of the stage for what should have felt like a confined interrogation room, but the blocking of the space was used effectively.
8. When Babies Fly
A baby crying on a plane and two characters talking about how much they hate babies… you could not have picked a better script for me. Its good, yet by no means the best script out there. But given my distaste for being trapped in confined spaces with a crying poop monster, I may have been more biased towards this piece.
It is difficult to keep an audience engaged and keep the energy up in a script where two characters are sitting the whole time. The actors managed to do that and kept the rhythm and energy of the play flowing. Despite this, they still felt a little bit flat, but not overly so. One small-but-irksome problem was the edge of the spotlight they were sitting in was clipping the head of one of the actors. Not sure if this was a stage placement issue, but its one of those things that bothers you endlessly once you see it.
All-in-all a pretty solid piece.
9. A Foolish Boy
Another Short+Sweet Abu Dhabi production. Director Stephan Delano is easily one of my favorite directors in this country. He has a particularly theatrical mind, telling a story in a way that can only be done on a stage. He is able to get a lot out of his young actors, and has taught them well on how to express stories with their bodies as props and with vigorous energy.
While the diction and clarity of delivery could use some work, I cannot fault the young actors for that. A Foolish Boy is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of theatre. Other directors would be foolish to not look at it for inspiration for what the medium allows and how the mechanics of the stage (and audience interaction) can be manipulated.
Judges Choice (on to Wildcards Final)
- PM Widow (Upstage Entertainment)
- Adopt or What? (Beyond the Veil)
- Masochism Tango (Drama Galleries)
People’s Choice (to People’s Choice Semi-Final)
- The Lady and the Tyger or William Blake’s How I Met Your Mother (AUD)