Short+Sweet Theatre Fest goes strong with Weekend Two, Dubai

{Big thank you to the Junction Theatre in Alserkal, Dubai for all their love! I appreciate you inviting me back for Weekend Two! Congrats to the actors, scriptwriters and directors on their creations ❤ }

7h15 was almost upon us and I was speed-walking in my high-heeled boots through the chilly winter alleys of Alserkal. My iPhone was abuzz with calls to coordinate with fellow theatre lovers, Benazir Rehman and Niharika Sahni who had read my post about Short+Sweet Theatre Festival’s Weekend One and were excited to join for the next set of ten plays of ten minutes each at Weekend Two. Punctual as ever, Niharika was already in queue to snag the best possible seats at the Junction Theatre, which offers a free-seating selection and is the reason why I’d always recommend arriving at 7pm to buy tickets and queue before doors open for the show at 7:30pm.

The stage is set for Short+Sweet Weekend Two!

A crowd of theatre-goers and actors were chatting outside the iconic yellow Junction signage as I bumped into a some familiar faces: Satyen Chandiramani, who acted in Enter Macbeth (read my review here) and Saif Khan, lead actor of Cindellala, the winning play of Top 50 Weekend One’s selection in discussion with Gautam Goenka, owner of the Junction theatre, about Saif’s directorial debut’s runner-up win in the Wildcards circuit earlier that day.

“My favorite show of the night was The Panel,” said Saif later that night while the judges’ tallied scores. “I thought it was really crisp and spot on.”

As we were joined by other memorable drama enthusiasts, I really felt a feeling of community and supportive energy. Actors and directors from a variety of production houses had come to support their friends and the camaraderie in the Dubai theatre scene filled me with a lot of joy and honor to be a small part of it ❤

With Top 50 Weekend Two’s winning cast and team, “The Panel” 🙂 

“When I come to Short+Sweet I want to be entertained, I want to see fire on stage, I want to feel the energy,” said Satyen. At the end of the night he shared, “I had many favorites tonight: 15 Seconds, The Panel, to an extent Precipice were fabulous. Sikku and Ahmad in Expiry Date. I wish them all best for the next round!”

“A lot of the scripts you’ll see tonight are written by Dubai writers,” had shared Gautam as he took the stage to announce the commencement of the evening, and I joined my dear friend Aashna Bakshi and mom, Divya Taimni inside in the theatre.

Aashna and I felt that Weekend Two’s scripts were colored by themes of suspense, sorrow and second chances. The line-up included intriguing titles like Orpheus, The 6-Day Job and More Than a Headstone which kept us eager to find out what the evening had in store and wondering which play we’d eventually vote to win the Audience’s Choice Award and move forward in the festival’s competition for a chance at Dhs. 20,000.

Nikhil Mittal and Ryan D’sa of Thinking Couch Productions take God to the Shrink’s sofa for a chat in “The 6-Day Job”

The show opened with Expiry Date, featuring Sikendar Hemani, a talented actor I last saw as goth Hamlet in Tall Tales Production’s Enter MacBeth (read my review here). Tonight, we found him pondering To Wed or Not to Wed inside a church with the future version of himself, played by Ahmad Syed. 

“My favorite part of Expiry Date was the dynamic of me… with me!” said Sikendar, “I love the complexity making a decision in those ten minutes onstage about what Jim is going to do with his life as his Future Self tells him what things or people to avoid as they’ll led the expiry of his marriage to Clara (played by Garima Himthani) in exactly 7 years 34 minutes.

“I just love the moment in the play when the bride walks in and I gaze at her with love and optimism while Ahmad just glares at her for ruining my/his life!” he laughed.

Sikendar Hemani and Ahmad Syed ponder “To Wed or Not to Wed” in “Expiry Date”

Sikendar is a veteran at this festival. “This is my fourth year participating in Short+Sweet. It takes patience to prepare for a show like this, but I come back every year because I can’t begin to describe the rush I feel at the end of every performance.”

This lovely romantic comedy was quite different from their production house, The Drama Galleries‘ Weekend One entry, “A Rough Definition of Truth,” which centered around a workplace sexual assault allegation starring Vaishali Balgu (read my review here.)

Piyush Harwani and Monica Chatterjee gave us a new method to try at the bar in “15 Seconds”

H72 Productions also brought us a love life decision with 15 Seconds, in which Piyush Harwani and Monica Chatterjee test his theory that two people who hold eye contact for fifteen seconds will either fight or f–fall into bed together. I invite you to try this out the next time you’re hanging out at a bar!

The evening took a dark turn with “Mum had said,” a powerful production written by Purva Grover, the editor of Young Times, and enacted by real life mother-daughter duo Kripa and Rashmi Katriwala.

“We play a mom and child who are caught in a bomb blast while playing at the park,” explained twelve-year old Kripa, who is also the youngest director at the festival. “It’s about how I cope and begin to realize that my mom has died.”

Kripa Kotriwala haunted us with her monologue in “Mum has said”

“Purva tends to write these very powerful plays and she thought that Kripa could play this part. So really the play chose us rather than the other way around!” shared Rashmi, who was curious to know how the audience reacted to the plot’s gruesome reveal at the end. Don’t worry, I’m not giving away any spoilers!

Rashmi has been associated with the festival since it first launched in Dubai seven years ago. “I’ve launched Short+Sweet in Calcutta and my play Perfect Stillness was the People’s Choice Winner at the first ever Short+Sweet festival in Dubai back in 2013.”

While their production haunted me days after, in that moment I was quite thankful for the emotional rest the intermission provided!

Norah Almaiman, Ashleigh Adonis, Assyl Yacine, Hani Yakan and Khalid Bilal shine in Najwa Yassir’s “The Panel”

My favorite play of the night and also the winner of the Audience’s Choice Award for Top 50 at Weekend Two was The Panel, an insightful, intelligent and absolutely hilarious play written and directed by Canadian-Palestinian Najwa Yassir. The description in the evening’s playbill read, “An idealist, cynic, opportunist and a poet discuss Arab women’s issues on a talk show. What could possibly go wrong?” 

“A lot can go wrong,” had said Aashna during intermission. “This could be a real cringe moment coming up.”

Instead the clash of personalities and perspectives of lofty poet (Hani Yakan), sexy author (Ashleigh Adonis), opinionated professor (Assyl Yacine) and finally Hala (Norah Almaiman) the only Arab woman on the panel of this TV talk show (host played expertly by Kareem K.) was an absolute delight to watch! As they interrupted and tried to push their viewpoints, their characters each made you think of someone you’ve come across and probably argued with in your own life.

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With my fellow theatre-lovers: Niharika Sahni, Benazir “Benny” Rehman, Aashna Bakshi and Divya Taimni ❤

I last had the pleasure of seeing Assyl Yacine and Ashleigh Adonis on stage in Sutradhar (read my review here) and it’s amazing to see the fun and sophistication they each bring to their characters whether it’s in an adaptation of the Mahabharata or as an opportunist author or a pompous intellectual demanding “Can I finish? Can I finish what I was saying? Thank you.”

“I loved this script because it’s layered,” said Assyl. “I liked the message behind it; it’s relatively subtle that we’ve got to actually listen to the people we’re discussing stop fighting fights that have nothing to do with us. I’m an Algerian-Brit myself so I can’t talk on behalf of Black women or a Russian man, so I’ve got to stop being outraged by it.”

“I’ve been a part of Short+Sweet before and this chance was an exciting for me because I got to work with actors that I’ve worked with before and for a director I’ve read for a lot,” said Noura Almaiman after the show. “It’s finally a piece about Arabs written by Arabs, and it was so exciting to discover the comedy grow with each rehearsal. We really fed off of the audience’s energy tonight — I think tonight was our best run through really!”

With the cast of “More than a Headstone” and their flowers!

The second half also brought us “More than a Headstone” which was a comedy that made your heart break every couple moments because of the cast’s cohesion. Marija Gregoric, Jeet Dhindsa, Sadiya Kazmi and Dina el Sahrawi gathered in a graveyard party of sorts as they each experience different stages of mourning their loved ones.

“We had a lot of fun on stage and we’ve been working hard for the last four months, said Serbian actress Marija, “Our script is great because it’s a serious subject about coping with the pain of death but with comedic effect.”

“We had great chemistry, the director really knew who to put together such that the energy showed onstage,” said Sadiya about Michel, their mentor at Dubai Drama Club.

Jeet Dhindsa, Sadiya Kazmi, Dina el Sehrawai and Marija Gregoric star in “More than a Headstone”

“Our mentor always tells us to take our work extremely seriously, but not to take ourselves very seriously. He brings a lot of fun and humor to rehearsals and tells us to draw from our experiences,” added Dina el Sehrawi. “Michel often says that he’s inspired by us to create the characters, but really we’re quite inspired by him.”

“We were practicing in parking lots, in streets, in random places. He believes any place can be a stage and that anyone can be an actor. You just have to face it and create the space and the characters to live them out,” said Sadiya.

Thanks for chatting with #nikitalyfe, Sid Abbas! 🙂

H72 Productions‘ second entry, “Indulge Me” also explored coping with death, and was written and acted in by Sid Abbas, whose intense acting prowess I got to witness in “The Abyss” (read my review here).

“The Abyss focused on depression and anxiety, and we wanted the audience to see the whole unraveling of the mind. Tonight dealt with loss,” compared Sid. “You see a bitter, broken man in Indulge Me, who’s never had to directly deal with the loss of his son because he has no one to talk to. Today finally he meets someone who he has has no connection with, no reason to talk to really, but when he learns that this art student, (Soumya Mehta) has experienced something similar — her mother dying in childbirth — his floodgates just open — and it’s the same for her because she gets to hear reassurance that she should have gotten from her father when she was five. Both of them deal with grief in a different way and I wanted to show that.”

“This subject is something that’s very close to my heart, I wrote the script but I think Roli Agrawal’s direction took it to another level, as she found things in the script that I had never seen. The message I’m trying to get out there to people is: Talk about your grief. People will listen and emphasize. Don’t bottle it up. Ever.”

Pranav Nasta and Alina Islam in South Parade productions’ “Precipice”

Sid’s favorites of the night was Expiry Date: “Sikendar and Ahmad were amazing and it was hilarious! I loved that play. I really wanted to see Precipice and Kripa’s play Mum Had Said, but I was getting into the headspace of an intense role up next so I couldn’t.”

South Parade production’s Precipice had me really rooting for the workplace couple starring Alina Islam and Pranav Nasta. The characters’ minute changes in expression showed beautiful direction by Meghana Mundkur (whose work I also got to see in Enter Macbeth.) I loved the twists and emotional reveals…I began expecting a fairytale ending, and then was sent into complete shock (and confusion) by the couple’s decision to jump off the building ledge (sorry, strong spoilers this time!) It made me think of a Priyanka Chopra Bollywood film from years ago called, Anjaana Anjaani, about a couple with a suicide pact.

“We met on a ledge and have been hiding our true feelings for each other, however we happen to have one mutual intention: suicide,” explained Pranav. “We end up meeting in the moment when we’re about to kill ourselves and in that moment we realize that we both do love each other — we just didn’t have the courage to say it before. But along with the courage gained by finding true love we also got us the courage to end it all.”

Aashna and I were baffled but Pranav laughed us off saying it’s what intrigued him about the script and got him to wonder how to play his suave marketeer character.

Mayssa Mansour and Jared Barney closed the night in American School of Dubai’s “Sad and Glad”

The evening’s shows closed with a genuinely cute play by the American School of Dubai called “Sad and Glad,” in which Jimmy (Jared Barney) bumps into his ex-girlfriend played by Mayssa Mansour at a bar before realizing that she’s at her bachelorette party.

“Obviously it was a bit nerve-wracking because we are one of the youngest and newest groups here, but it was a great experience. We got to meet so many cool people backstage and I would love to do it again,” said Joelle Chaifoun, who played destiny’s waitress in the comedy “Sad & Glad.”

I loved that Jimmy was just about to give up on everything and has crowned himself the villain of his life … though he laments the tattoo artist has written Villian. His dismay quickly turns to a chuckle at fate when he meets a lovely girl named… you guessed it, Villian (Joelle Chaifoun) 🙂 I’m a sucker for hopeful and happy endings!

The Short+Sweet Theatre Festival will continue every weekend until 9th March 2019, so if you haven’t already definitely check it out at the Junction Theatre in Alserkal, Dubai. And if you have been already; discover another set of awesome plays! I will be attending next weekend’s shows and I couldn’t be more excited for it. Until next time, keep exploring ❤ xoxo #nikitalyfe

It was so much fun chatting with the cast of “More than a Headstone”


Author: Nikita Taimni

A Dubai-based blogger, I write about travel, theatre and lifestyle in the cities I explore around the world. Follow me on Instagram @nikitalyfe and follow via email if you enjoy reading my posts!

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