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Engaging, funny, and sometimes sad

The local playwriting competition, Famous for 15 Minutes, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year with another six locally-written plays making their debut at the Daylesford Theatre from now until Saturday.

This year’s entries are as good as any of the previous years’ winners, and judge Tom Coash, an American playwright and director, will be hard-pressed, I believe, to choose a winner.

The emphasis this year is on the humorous and ironic side of life, with four of the plays comedies and a fifth having comic elements to leaven the poignancy of memory and loss. Mark Lavery’s ‘The Appointment’, is the only play to look at the more sombre side of life and the damage relatives can cause each other, recalling Jean-Paul Sartre’s postulation: Hell is other people.

‘The Appointment’ is a thoughtful exploration of the destructive nature of some relationships, in this case the impact of a divorce on the relationship between a young son and his distant father, and how some wounds will never heal. James Bennett plays the anxious Mr. Scott seeking relief from his sense of inadequacy and feelings of abandonment by consulting the Doctor, a challenging role played by John Dale. All is not as it first seems.

Owain Johnston-Barnes’ ‘A Thousand Words’ also examines the nature of memory and loss. Martin has suffered loss through death and divorce, and having lost everything himself, hoards others’ memorabilia; ‘fragments of ourselves’ he calls them. Heather’s aunt lost her independence, her home and finally her family’s respect to Alzheimer’s, and Heather seeks to retrieve some family photographs bought by Martin in an estate sale. Kelvin Hastings-Smith does a particularly good job of portraying a complex character a bitter and lonely man whose isolation is broken by two young women, Heather (played by Sharise Clarke) and her friend Karen (played by Latisha Lister). Whether the encounter will leave Martin changed, is not entirely clear, but Heather leaves with her quest fulfilled.

‘Still Life With Book’, by Adam Gauntlett, explores with wit and humour the minor irritations that can make a quiet Saturday read an impossible quest. Pete Havlicek is ‘The Reader’, looking forward to immersing himself in the pleasure of a new book, while Mia Pauwels dexterously portrays the irritating interruptions keeping him from his pleasure, including a dripping tap, an overzealous, BB-ing colleague and a persistent pet. Cleverly directed, this little gem will strike a chord with any bibliophile.

An engaging insight into an enduring marriage, Deborah Pharoah-Williams’ ‘One Size Fits All’ is lots of good fun. Laced with gentle humour, the play’s script follows a loving couple’s preparations for their 40th anniversary. While the wife, played by Heather Stafford, shops for a tie, her husband Hubert, played by Kelvin Hastings-Smith, steps out of his comfort zone and over the threshold of Pandora’s Box. Given the nature of the relationship, the outcome is never really in doubt, but we have fun along the way to the resolution.

‘A Little Bit of Heaven’ by Kevin Comeau offers a social commentary on politics, politicians and the nature of happiness. Loser Henry, played by Owain Johnston-Barnes, is dubbed by his suave friend Gordon, played by Micah Jiminez, as “the world’s unhappiest man”. As the two recount over a glass of wine or three Henry’s ham-fisted attempts at courtship, and their rather disastrous consequences, it becomes apparent that the root causes of unhappiness in the world societal and personal are deceit and envy. The dialogue is laced with irony, greatly appreciated by the audience. Henry’s honesty earns him the prize in the end, and Gordon is left to observe that Henry has become just a little less unhappy.

George Morton’s entry, ‘Straight from the Horse’s Mouth’, involves three very-strongly drawn characters with outrageous personalities in a tragic-comic ending. Effete Marcus, played by Jonah Service, “likes his dog, rare buttons and Roger” according to the programme notes. Roger, played by Geoffrey Faiella, “likes beer, race-horses and Elliot’s cash” and vulgar, bullying Elliot, played by James Bennett, “likes himself.” The threads of the plot are deftly intertwined to create a neat, surprising ending.

Six quite different, but equally engaging, plays provide a great evening’s entertainment. The winner of the competition will be revealed following Saturday’s performances, and I look forward to finding out if my pick is the same as the judge’s.

Famous for 15 Minutes runs 9-18 February 9 to 18 the Daylesford Theatre at 8pm. Tickets ($25; $75 for the gala night, February 18) are available from the Daylesford Box office (292-0848) an hour before the evening performance or on line at www.bmds.bm.

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Published February 13, 2012 at 7:00 am (Updated February 12, 2012 at 9:05 pm)

Engaging, funny, and sometimes sad

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