IT is quite impossible to resist punning when talking about Budding Theatre, the brainchild of writer/director Kirsty Budding — it’s a project that quite literally encourages “budding theatre.”
This energetic group production, which served the pleasure of the participants as much as that of the audience, was based on Budding’s invitation to 10 playwrights to respond to the opening stage direction in a play of their making – “[A character] enters carrying a Christmas present.”
The company’s aim of serving the wider community was evident with a pause in the evening for a raffle and option, the proceeds of which went to Doctors without Borders and World Animal Protection. So as well as being theatre for fun this proved to be theatre with a conscience.
Ten plays in one evening is quite a tall order for a production team and for an audience. Suffice it to say, “Unwrap Me” revealed such a variety in acting skills, pacing and directing that it is impossible to comment definitively on the quality of the texts.
Most of the participants belong to a fast-growing cohort of writers emerging from the Short+ Sweet Play Festival, Crash Test Drama, the Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art, the Australian Theatre for Young People, the University of Wollongong and the Canberra secondary college system.
The plays were largely very short, although I could not perceive a specific time limit, nor, thank goodness, did the Christmas present stipulation seem to be particularly well-observed.
As the evening wore on, both writing and performances picked up pace, so that the final two works, Disapol Savetsila’s “The Price of Balloons,” dealing with human values and Greg Gould’s “Sexy Beth’s Giant Dildo Collection,” dealing with honesty in family relationships, hit the spot in both writing and directing.
With a few ups and downs, the evening nonetheless sizzled with intellectual liveliness.
Grace De Morgan in “The Cat (that’s Schrödinger’s cat) and the Cigarette” sets cerebral speculation against genuine love and affection.
Tom Green in “The Christmas Pitch” says Santa and his right-hand elf pitching the idea of universal present-giving at Christmas-time to a hard-nosed financial assessor. Similarly deconstructing Christmas, John Lombard in “The Holiday on December 25” introduces us to a family where Christmas has been totally suppressed. Kirsty Budding’s own play, “No Room at the Inn” places the story of Christmas hospitality in the context of modern same-sex relationships and family.
In some plays, the subject matter proved too complex for the short play format. Nigel Palfreman’s “I ♥ Alex Solomon” teeters on the brink of complex emotional drama, suggesting the need for further development. Similarly, Kirsten Lovett’s “Original Sinners” in which the mythical Pandora confronts the equally mythical Cain, demands fuller explication.
At other times, sheer farce was the order of the day, in with CJ Naylor’s laughter-filled “A Christmas Body” ending with a twist, and Tahlee Fereday’s “Christmas with Carol” depicting a young girl’s attempt to undermine Christmas backfires in a thoroughly nauseating way.
This enjoyable evening abounded in belly laughs, verbal gags and rough humour, sending the audience home in a thoroughly good mood. It remains to be see whether this budding theatre, in which all these aspiring playwrights and directors are engaging so robustly, will come to full flower.