Art Is A Weapon
New Theatre, Sydney; newtheatre
Tuesday, October 30, 2007. Opening Night Performance. Review by TROY DODDS.

Until November 2. Bookings: 1300 306 776.

The good thing about an evening of short plays is that you know what you’re in for. It’s very rare that you’ll come across a bunch of terrible plays, or for that matter an array of brilliant ones. Short play evenings generally feature three or four really good pieces of theatre, a few you can take or leave and others that have you thanking the lord above it’ll all be over in 10 minutes.

For a little while, it looks like Art Is A Weapon, an initiative from the newtheatre in which writers must present plays under the theme of the concept’s title, is going to defy the odds given the first three plays are absolutely wonderful, but by the time the two-and-a-half hour marathon comes to an end we’ve managed to go through the full gamut of good and bad, on so many levels.

All of the plays have an element of controversy, whether it be references to politics, terrorism, war or sex. The test for the playwrights is ensuring that the lines don’t get blurred between penning something controversial for controversial’s sake, and writing something that actually conveys an intended worthy message.

The two plays that do best in ensuring the balance is right is Suzie Miller’s Flight / Flight Mode, a post September 11 look at how the dynamic of the “fear of flying” has changed for both Caucasians and those of “Middle Eastern appearance”, and Wayne Tunks’ Unspoken, a sometimes amusing but deeply serious look at a gay affair with a little more than a tinge of politics thrown in.

Flight / Flight Mode works so well because it’s not a difficult play to write. That’s not to question Miller’s ability – indeed, it takes a supreme talent to ensure the process from thought to concept is crafted so well – but unfortunately the ever-real threat of terrorism in the skies has changed the way people think and act when on a plane, and it’s something anyone can see day in, day out at airports across the world. The obvious glares at people presumed to be Muslims and the clear fear on the face of many is so evident in this world addicted and in some ways obsessed with 9/11, and Miller has done a superb job in consolidating those fears into a 10 minute piece and perhaps opening the eyes of many.

It’s also fortunate that this play features the two best acting performances of the evening, with Beejan Olfat and Anna Hruby simply amazing in their very different, but incredibly similar roles.

Tunks is no stranger to plays focusing on gay relationships, hence it’s no real surprise it is the focus of Unspoken. The piece follows an older politician (a family man, no less) who is having an affair with a man in his early 20’s. What is initially a quirky and funny piece eventually becomes one questioning gay rights in modern day politics. It’s a good, solid play, and Tunks has done a sensational job in developing it, while Augusta Supple’s direction is impressive.

Other highlights exist in Ned Manning’s Pericles, Jon Fosse’s A Red Butterfly’s Wings and Terence Crawford’s hilarious Fuck ‘Em If They Can’t Take A Joke. The latter unfortunately falls over at the end but with a little more work it could be a real winner at short play festivals around the traps in the years to come.

Nick Parsons’ The Gallery Sketch is somewhat amusing, as is Woman With Books which features a stellar individual performance from Marika Aubrey.

The other pieces are far from terrible, though they’re not very good either. However, only The Generous, The Merciful, The Giving (Horrific Acts) and I Can Make You Disappear would fall into the “never again” category.

The evening finishes with a piece labelled Civics Lessons by Stephen Sewell. A talented writer, Sewell is the perfect example of one who gets sucked into the passion of being controversial, an element of his writing that has let him down before. Instead of telling a story, Sewell tries to force it down the audience’s throat, a ploy that rarely works. Sewell’s desperation to be controversial is becoming predictable and hence his work is less explosive than it once promised to be.

All in all, there’s some quality plays here from writers who deserve to be unearthed on a more regular basis. It’s an entertaining night out, with plenty of laughs and a few thought-provoking moments along the way.