Bite-sized TheatreDate: 5 March 2011
Last night I caught the last performance of Word:Play 4, Box of Tricks Theatre’s short run of six specially-commissioned 15-minute plays at the Arcola. I didn’t enjoy all the playlets – those in the second half were far stronger than those before the interval, with special mention going to Daniel Kanaber’s funny and moving monologue, David, and Siân Owen's clever four-hander, The Turn – but that didn’t detract from my feeling of satisfaction at the evening as a whole.
With Word:Play, Box of Tricks is giving six playwrights the chance to experiment with new work in a safe space, but the benefits of this type of bite-sized theatre extend to the audience too, and not just because several of the plays were entertaining in themselves. What we get with such an evening of work is a reminder that great plays don’t just emerge fully formed on the stage at the National Theatre or the Royal Court, but are almost always the result of years of slog as writers learn their craft.
Where in the past it was really only industry who were able to see the playwriting process in action through rehearsed and staged readings that showcased short works and works-in-progress, the public can now get a glimpse at this type of work at events such as Word:Play, Theatre503’s PLAYlist and Decade seasons, and at slightly higher level, featuring already established playwrights such as Mark Ravenhill and Neil LaBute, Southwark Playhouse’s Terror 2010 Death and Resurrection. What started at the BAC over 10 years ago with the theatre’s ground-breaking Scratch nights, where the public was invited to watch works-in-progress and then critique them with the creatives in the bar afterwards, is now increasingly accessible all over the London Fringe.
If these bite-sized performances appeal to those who already have an interest in theatre and its processes, they also have the potential, with the right marketing, to attract new audiences to this world. “Don’t know if you like theatre? Why not come and have a little taste?” Surely even the most timorous theatre virgin can be persuaded to take a chance on a play lasting just 15-minutes, and if they like what they see, who knows, it might be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Not every short play you’ll see at one of these seasons will be to your liking, and you may not discover the next big thing, but for a fascinating glance into the world of playwriting, bite-sized theatre is well worth finding the time for.