Short+Sweet Theatre’s line-up continues to amaze at Weekend 5, Dubai

{Thank you for the #nikitalyfe love, Dubai theatre folks! Especially to Gautam and Sabiha for inviting me back to The Junction to blog for Week 5, Top 50 of the festival}

The Junction theatre is rapidly beginning to feel like my second home in Dubai ūüôā I returned to this cornerstone of the Dubai theatre scene in artsy Alserkal Avenue to watch the last round of the Top 50 series, before the competition hits semi-finals on March 1st.

As Priyanka Geriya’s “The Snow Angel of Antartica” had to withdraw from the competition, there were only nine shows in the line-up. But boy were there some gems on stage tonight! I had the pleasure of seeing these productions with my dad, Rajiv Taimni and pseudo-grandmothers and fellow theatre-lovers, Vibhuti Taimni and Shashi Bakshi.

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Love them, look up to them and thrilled to watch theatre with them: Shashi Bakshi & Vibhuti Taimni ‚̧

The show opened differently this weekend: instead of the usual upbeat music, we were treated to a video compiling thoughts from previous festival winners and a¬†look at the behind-the-scenes with organizers, Sabiha Majgaonkar, Rashmi Kotriwala (we last saw her in “Mum had said”),¬†and¬†Gautam Goenka¬†who make it possible to stage 100 plays at Short+Sweet 2019. We also heard¬†insights from the participants and producers, like¬†Asad Raza Khan of Tall Tales Productions – peek at my review of Enter Macbeth) who attended tonight to support their entry and Satyen Chandiramani’s directorial debut,¬†Theatre in the Red.

 

“Wonderful line-up today: excellent diversity in content and genre,” said Asad, after the show. “There was comedy, farce, abstract, even a monologue that started out as storytelling and then turned dark. In the weeks that I’ve seen Short+Sweet, this was the strongest line-up by far. I think there were at least five plays that could have easily made the finals. I feel bad for the judges.”

As for his favorites, “I loved ‘Star Power’; it’s no secret that it went on to win both the Judges and Audience Choice¬†Awards. I really liked the monologue, ‘Best Served Cold’: it was very powerful and had a dark twist. I thought both the actresses were phenomenal in the ‘Theatre in the Red’; they had a smart script. I also loved the actress in ‘Statistically Speaking’; she was on the money from the beginning. Like I said, it’s very hard to pick a favorite with such a strong line-up this week.”

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Abbas Daruwala and Ziyad Bangara won 1st Place at the Audience and Judges’ Choice Awards for “Star Power”

I’m not usually one for science-fiction plots, so when Gautam prefaced the line-up by joking that the three out of the four shows in first half of the night unintentionally featured sci-fi themes, I was nervous. But as¬†Boyfriend 2.0, A Glitch in Time Saves… and Star Power¬†each took the stage, I was completely engrossed in their scenes and at some moments, wiping away tears from laughing so hard! And yes — this #nikitalyfe post would be incomplete without a shoutout to Ziyad Bhangara‘s for his character’s desperate and endearing performance of Drake’s iconic question:¬†Kiki, do you love me? ūüôā

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Naser Al Sughaier and Larissa Massih are a new-age AI-human couple in Boyfriend 2.0

Starting from the top: Short+Sweet Acting Group kicked off the night with Boyfriend 2.0, in which Hayley (Larissa Massih) weighed the merits of an artificial intelligence boyfriend (Naser Al Sughaier) versus her ex-boyfriend, Daniel (Samuel Marcos) who invites himself over to try to win her back.

“I was actually just telling the guys that we’ve never perform it with the energy that we did tonight,” said Samuel, who also acted in the 16-person ensemble cast of¬†Playground¬†later that night. “It was a wonderful experience: we loved everything backstage that went into producing this, and when you’re on stage…there’s nothing like it. For some reason when you get on stage it’s like a little motor inside kicks in! The energy makes all the difference.”

“It was challenging to switch between the characters,” added cast-mate Larissa Massih, “I play a seven year old in Playground and an adult in Boyfriend 2.0.”

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Joelle Thomas and Emmanuel Brechard tackle a new perspective on cheating in “Say Nothing”

Real life-couple, Emmanuel Brechard and Joelle Thomas debated whether it was better or worse for the future of a relationship for a spouse to confess their infidelity in “Say Nothing,”¬†which is an adaption of Philippe Caure‘s French play “Ne Dis Rien.”¬†

“It’s an interesting ¬†topic to think about: is it better to tell the person you’re with that you’ve cheated or to keep it to yourself, and not off-load onto your significant other?” said Joelle, “We’ve asked a lot of our friends what they would prefer and gotten mixed responses.”

“My character thought that it would be brave to tell her, but clearly she felt it would’ve been better if I hadn’t said anything,” said Emmanuel, who Joelle’s character was keen to let marinate in guilt as she hypothesized it would’ve fueled him to be more romantic and attentive towards her for the rest of their marriage.

Personellement, I think one should not say anything,” he continued, in an accent that made me immediately miss Paris.

“Not if it wasn’t a serious enough instance that it could seriously damage the relationship,” agreed Joelle.

“That said, we don’t really have any opinion on this topic as none of us have cheated — that we know of,” joked Emmanuel. “This is an adaption from a French play to English though we had to change 40 percent of the script to fit time.”

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When your wingman just can’t get it right… With the cast of A Glitch in Time

Paurav Shah, Yash Bhardwaj, Keerthan Ganesh and Ramya Bala continued with the first play’s theme of romance and sci-fi with “A Glitch in Time Saves…”¬†as they keep time-traveling to a bar in an effort for Paurav’s character to stage the perfect meet-cute conversation with his dream girl.

“The audience today was much easier than last night’s audience. They were really chilled out, maybe because the work-week starts tomorrow and they want to let loose,” chuckled¬†Yash Bhardwaj. “The science-fiction element was our favorite part of it, and executing comedy on stage completely stoked us up.¬†I’ve done Short+Sweet comedies twice before but I’m coming back to theatre after a while and my cast-mates really put things on a silver platter for me.”

“I did two shows tonight: ‘A Glitch in Time Saves’ was sci-fi time-travel comedy and ‘Best Served Cold’ which is a monologue about a food critic haunted by his memories,” said talented co-star, Paurav Shah. “I’ve done Short+Sweet every year since the first season, but I’ve never done two shows in one evening so personally it was a challenge to make the audience see me as two totally different characters in one night. Only the audiences can decide if I succeeded!”

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Paurav Shah captivated us with his monologue in “Best Served Cold”¬†

“Short+Sweet has become my playground to experiment, because you can’t really do that in full length plays,” furthered Paurav. “It’s no longer about winning or losing for me. It’s about exploring myself as an actor in those ten minutes. Tonight, I played one character that was fun in ‘Glitch in Time Saves’¬†and another who was intense in H72 Productions‘ ‘Best Served Cold’.”

Paurav’s stage presence in both garnered a lot of praise from audiences and actors alike. “I liked Paurav’s monologue in ‘Best Served Cold’,” said veteran actor Satyen Chandiramani (Enter MacBeth). “He amped it up so well. I’ve seen him and performed with him as well and I am so proud and happy¬†with¬†him right now.”

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Hananah Zaheer and Malavika Varadhan electrified the stage in “Theatre in the Red”

Satyen’s own directorial debut with¬†“Theatre in the Red”¬†in which a scriptwriter faces off with a difficult producer to put up her play proved very successful as it won the Bronze amongst the Judges’ Choice. “The whole experience of directing such experienced actors like Malavika Varadhan and Hananah Zaheer, a producer like Asad Raza Khan, and a script like this just gives me a lot of room to experiment and make sure it’s crisp and entertaining,” said Satyen. “Getting a place among the judges’ votes is a big thrill for me as a director debuting; I was aiming for the play to get up there so I’m very happy with the results.”

“We had a great script,” said Hananah Zaheer, who also participated in Short+Sweet three years ago, “and it was really fun to work with Malavika who had equal energy. Obviously today, the audience was great so we could play off of them.” As for other shows she enjoyed, “Statistically Speaking¬†was quippy and slick. They had a good script, and it was well-acted.”

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#nikitalyfe with the men of theatre: Ziyad, Paurav, Asad, Sid, Gautam & Yash

“The energy in ‘Theatre in the Red’ was next level,” said Sid Abbas, an incredible actor we saw in Weekend One’s “The Abyss” and Weekend Two’s “Indulge Me.” “In terms of energy, it was the best out of all of them. If you ask me, the¬†order of my favorites were ‘Star Power’, ‘Theatre in Red’, ‘Best Served Cold’ and ‘Glitch in Time Saves’. I loved Star Power because of the performance — not just because I was involved with it — but because it was amazing. ‘Theatre in Red’ had a great performance from Hananah, and in ‘Best Served Cold,” Paurav never lost my attention even once which is hard to do when you’re the only person on stage. Every reaction he got from the audience was deliberate because he brought the intensity needed for the stage. Glitch in Time was of-course, a great feel-good play.”

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Pranav Nasta and Gabriela Porojan in Statistically Speaking

“From the back of the green room, I have to say ‘Star Power’ deserved the win and so ‘Theatre in the Red,” said fellow actor, Pranav Nasta¬†(remember him from ‘Precipice?’)¬†agreeing with Sid’s ranking.

Pranav Nasta¬†charmed us onstage tonight in “Statistically Speaking” as a statistician with grey-zone ethics filtering to find his ideal love…via surveys in a doctor’s waiting room. “Tonight was fantastic, I had a very fun co-star, Gabriela Porojan, and we put this play up together. My character’s got some tricks up his sleeve: it’s fun playing characters who express things that you otherwise couldn’t in public. And lastly, can I just add, what a line-up today!”

“Statistically Speaking” definitely was one of my many favorites scripts: I loved the twists and turns, and the interactions between Gabriela and Pranav’s characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed “Star Power” for similar reasons. Akanksha Goenka‘s direction expertly handled Ted Wenskus‘ script with the more than capable cast’s acting prowess harnessed by Ziyad Bangara (unforgettable in The Abyss), Abbas Daruwala, and Ahmed Syed.

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Thanks for chatting with #nikitalyfe, Ziyad Bangara!

This winning show orbited around the galaxy’s collection agent (Abbas Daruwala) comes knocking on unemployed ¬†twenny-something Jeffrey (Ziyad Bangara)’s door to charge Earth’s overdue bill for Sun energy usage. The entire concept was so novel and every nuance of expression and dialogue had the audience leaning in for more ūüôā

“I’m quite overwhelmed at this point,” said Ziyad after the show. “Week One I was doing The Abyss, which was an intense play. And people understand intense. But with comedy it’s different: it’s hit or miss. There’s a fear inside of you before you get on stage; is this actually funny? Will I get the timing right? Is this going to be cringe? There are all these elements with comedy. But once you’ve practiced with amazing co-stars and directors, got a great audience, it just somehow came all together and it’s been a fulfilling experience, to say the least.”

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The Show closed with Playground: a large ensemble piece

“I was only able to catch the plays in the second half, but I thought ‘Statistically Speaking’ was a really interesting concept because it got me thinking, Can everything be quantified? The script was very strong in the ‘Theatre in Red’, Malavika did a really great job with the acting and I love how relevant it was for the actors and audience.”

As the night drew to a close, I caught up with a familiar face from Weekend Two’s “More than a Headstone.” Serbian actress, Marija Gregoric from Dubai Drama Club joined Natalie Wehbe in “Frog loves Christy” whose plot about the Princess kissing the Frog and worrying about turning into a Frog too unfortunately confused me quite a bit.

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Marija Gregoric and Natalie Wehbe in “Frog loves Christy”

That said, Marija found¬†“tonight’s experience was exciting. I thought that having been in a show, ‘More than a Headstone’ two weeks ago would mean that I’d be fine on stage tonight, but I still got the butterflies. I’m really going to miss Short+Sweet, I can’t believe it’s almost over. I will come back next year for sure.”

I can’t believe semi-finals are this weekend either! It’s been absolutely incredible watching 10 interesting shows of 10 minutes each these past weekends at the Junction theatre in Alserkal Avenue. I’m now looking forward to attending the Semi Finals on March 1st and hope to see you there at 7:30pm! Until next time, keep exploring ūüôā xoxo #nikitalyfe ‚̧

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Nikita Taimni (#nikitalyfe) at the Junction

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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