In praise of short plays

Producing more shorts can be an effective strategy for artistic directors keen to lure in time-poor punters.

D. de la Pena (norton frantic)/Flickr

This spring I’ve seen two plays called “War and Peace”, one very long and one very short. Shared Experience’s adaptation at the Royal Court, part of his Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat season of 16 playlets scattered across London, was a more unusual and extraordinary thing: an original, well-produced and well-publicised short.

We’ve moved on from Victorian theatrical conventions, such as the proscenium arch and the Edmund Kean school of Acting with a capital A (well, some of us have, Sir Trevor Nunn). But producers and directors remain weirdly fond of operatically long plays. Surely it’s time we truly embraced the potential of shorts?

For Dominic Cooke, artistic director of the Royal Court, the Ravenhill shorts were a great success. They were scheduled at varied times from 6pm to 8.45pm and shown in the bar rather than on stage. “Anything unpredictable in theatre is really good,” he explained to me, adding that these “visceral punches in the stomach” had generated a very different kind of buzz than the more traditional shows. Lyndsey Turner, a director at the Royal Court, is currently rehearsing a similarly genre-bending new play by Mike Bartlett, “Contractions“. Weighing in at under an hour, the play will be performed in the theatre’s offices from May 29th to June 14th.

Written swiftly and staged cheaply, short plays can fill a gap in a lunch hour or offer a cultural quickie on the way home from work. Lyn Gardner over at the Guardian has been advocating a more varied choice of performance times; producing more shorts can be an effective strategy for artistic directors keen to lure in time-poor punters.

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