Short + Sweet Festival 2021 Gala Awards Night

As the Short + Sweet short play festival approaches its 20th year in Sydney, it has just pulled through one of its worst, if not the worst, year yet with a handful of delays and interruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But they pulled through with aplomb and were finally able to celebrate the close of their 2021 season with the Gala Awards Night.

Nearly 30 plays entered the final week of semi-finals competition with 10 reaching the last stages of the Gala Awards Night performance after a round of voting through the Crew Cut, People’s Choice, and Judges’ Choice. These 10 then competed for the ultimate prizes including Best Production, Best Script, and the new Actors’ Circle for which five of the best actors are selected.

Across the ten finalist short plays, time seemed to be a recurring theme with multiple scripts playing with characters moving backwards or forwards through time. I Was Fine Until You Came into the Room written by Rich Orloff and directed by Kim Vaitiekus saw Helen (Caroline Larcombe) and Peter (Leonard Sun) reflecting on the first time they met as Rebecca May and Richard Wu recreated the awkward encounter. The Forgotten Place by Jeff Locker and directed by Garreth Cruikshank also traced a relationship through time but this was an emotional roller coaster of two men (Cruikshank and Nick Shields) predicting the rise and fall of their lifelong friendship. Then, Dating Through the Decades by Ken Levine, directed by Gina Cohen, cemented the nostalgic sentiment with a couple (Ally O’Brien and James Saunders) dancing and dating their way from the 1950s to today. All three drew strong reactions from the audience with The Forgotten Place going on to win Best Script and the Judges’ Choice for Best Production.

Other plays took a more realistic approach to time and attempted to grapple with ageing and death in various ways. In Buried Treasure, two siblings (Jacqui Duncan and James Brettell) sorted through their grandmother’s house and their troubled memories with a gentle script by Duncan and David Allsopp. Katrina Samaras’s script Judgement Day as directed by Clare Burgess imagined the other side of the curtain with a recently deceased woman (Sarah Marie Reynolds) reckoning with her sinful behaviour. The last play to dip into death was a real crowd favourite for its very dark humour. You Won’t Believe written and directed by Frank Leggett and performed by Debbie Nielson was a monologue from a lonely online-dater turned serial killer with an unnervingly trusting nature. Buried Treasure and You Won’t Believe went on to sweep the awards, winning Best Script and Best Director for James Brettrell and People’s Choice for Best Production and the Festival Director’s Award for Frank Leggett. All three actors were additionally inducted in the Actors’ Circle.

Another monologue came from writer and director Ruth Fingret with performer Jyotsna Sharma voicing the violent and all-too-familiar story of domestic violence and homelessness experienced by one woman and based on a true story. But the remaining short plays appealed more to the audience’s sense of humour, whatever their varied taste. A Period Play written and directed by Joss Chalmers picked up on the popularity of period pieces like Bridgerton with a pun-rich aristocratic love triangle whereas As Nice as Pie by Barry Wood and directed by Lachlan McWilliam imagined an entirely different kind of love triangle with a husband (Don Ferguson) concocting a dastardly plan for a new boarder (Cassandra Chloe) and attempting to convince his wife (Alice Furze) to accept it but, oh, how the tables turn. The last play to mention was a real riot when a recently married couple (Annabelle Kablean and Barrett Griffin) arrived at the parents-in-law’s (Graham Yates and Lynda Leavers) house for what they expect to be a relaxed birthday celebration. Turned out the homeowners had other plans and an evening spent tripped out of their minds was exactly what the young couple needed. Sweethearts writer Sophie Irvin and director Olga Tamara were awarded the Judges’ Choice for Best Production while Lynda Leavers was additionally inducted into the Actors’ Circle.

If two tied awards and five inductees to the Actors’ Circle, including Olivia Aleksoski whose short play Sweet, She did not progress to the Awards Night, is anything to go by, 2021 was an incredibly successful year for short plays despite the many set-backs. The spirit of Short + Sweet was certainly alive and well in the audience’s embrace of the finalists and the community’s commitment to the festival overall. With so many little gems of life experiences and learnings distilled in the short plays on show, it’s certainly an exciting time to be involved with Short + Sweet.

Short + Sweet Gala Awards Night was performed at Tom Mann Theatre on April 3rd

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