Tristan Bates Theatre – until 18 May 2019
There is something stimulating about ultra-short plays: five to 20 minutes but directed and performed with all the care and concentration of any full-length drama. They can aim to be hardly more than sketches, but that too is a useful craft to hone – in an age when TV companies have forgotten the golden days of Victoria Wood, Armstrong and Miller etc, and given up on the expensive business of sketch-comedy because it’s just cheaper to do personality panel shows and sitcoms. Saves on the set and costume budgets…
But beyond the enjoyable sketch-jokes, some of the collection assembled annually by the remarkable little INK festival in Suffolk are real, serious, heartfelt miniature dramas. Some could grow – and will – to full-length plays. Others are just right as they are. And when a set of them are assembled, as in this collection visiting London, they certainly make for an entertaining evening.
With pure sketch-mischief we have Richard Curtis’ contribution, first seen in Suffolk last year as the savvy artistic director Julia Sowerbutts and her team call in a few “names” for the sake of the buzz. Amber Muldoon, one of Ink’s favourite stars, plays a singer trying to get through Another Suitcase under a barrage of directorial vanities and interruptions. It’s very funny. His daughter Scarlett’s sketch of three generations of women watching a Royal Wedding is endearing too.
But the real meat of the evening comes in darker, emotionally subtle pieces. Shaun Kitchener’s That’s Great has two friends in a flat, a supportive Will Howard discussing Ed Jones’ shy crush, until a betrayal is revealed: all three are young gay men but the story is universal, hovering between bedroom-farce and potential tragedy. Jones as Rory is particularly fine. His own Ping Pong Club is on the programme too, as author.
Also not-ok romantically is Shappi Khorsandi’s character Nina – again Muldoon – remembering a bad night out and a treacherous boyfriend with all the shame and defiance of the Fleabag generation. Howard, in Mixed Up by James McDermott, is also fascinating, in a play approaching the age of Trans with thoughtful subtlety. Martha Loader’s curious After Prospero baffled me a bit, but hit home at times on the subject of sisterliness and the wearing-out of old ways And, back in sketchland, Ann Bryson in Invisible Irene delivers with defiant brio the battlecry of female middle-age.
There are others on the London programme: I can’t star-rate it because I have not seen a couple of them, or not yet, but as a display of what can be done in small spaces of time, sometimes by as yet unperformed writers, if you put the work in the hands of good directors and intelligent actors. It will at the very least make you want to submit a playlet of your own for next year’s INK. It’s the seed-corn of theatrical creativity.
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