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Short and Stark, Southwark Playhouse

Joel Horwood

Directed by Jim Russell
Pros: Horwood’s four playlets are consistently funny, often poignant, and delivered by an enthusiastic and talented young cast.
Cons: Some pieces were underdeveloped, causing confusion or requiring a little more length to be effective.
Our Verdict: A charming and funny sequence of short plays which addresses experiences of loneliness from different angles and features a top notch ensemble. 
Courtesy of Southwark Playhouse
This month, the Southwark Playhouse presents an evening of short plays by writer Joel Horwood. The pieces vary in length, style, and cast size, but are linked by the sense of loneliness which permeates through each one, effectively commenting on the depression and disconnectedness we often experience despite every effort being made to escape or ignore our need for human connection. A talented young cast brings each piece to life with energy, and it makes for a delightful evening out at Southwark’s modern and minimalistic venue.
The stage is arranged as an aisle, littered with garbage, old footballs, and a coffin. Each piece requires few or no props, and the set seems meant more to capture a mood of desolation and angst than to be fully functional – but this suits the night of ‘short and stark’ pieces excellently.
Four different scenes take place over the following hour. First is Everything I’ve Ever Done Wrong (Amplified), a stand-up comedy, or Alcoholics Anonymous-style confession from a sex addict with a penchant for well-shaped ears. This first piece engulfs us in the attitude of the entire evening: its blaring message being “I’m alone and afraid but I won’t admit it.” The unnamed storyteller tells of his obsession with anonymous sex but his inability to fully connect with a woman who really captures him. The short is equally funny and tragic, and well-performed, without melodrama or flatness. 
Following this is a scene on Christmas day: a tracksuit clad person sits watching Home Alone 2 and opening Christmas crackers alone. While providing great comedic timing and some charmingly awkward moments, this piece missed the heights of its predecessor. The relationship between the man and a woman who comes round is never remotely clear – and the piece ends quickly and without even the hint of resolution. 
We move back to the monologue style with the third playlet, Polly Brown, in which a man recounts the story of his life: the embarrassments, the meagre successes, and most importantly the infinite near misses with the love of his life. This piece was far and away my favourite, its lyricism and nostalgia was truly charming, and it had the added bonus of telling a classic story without becoming dry or uninteresting. The ache of what almost was lingered long after the piece ended. 
Finally was The Dim, in which high school rivals are reunited and find themselves living very different lives. This one hit its comedic beats with skill, but was a little garbled and lacking as far as plot development, and left me a little confused and unaffected.
In general, Short and Stark certainly won me over with its wit and emotional core, but its single-performer pieces far outshone its full cast components, which could have done with some further development and might have benefitted from being a little longer.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Short and Stark runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 13th July 2013.
Box Office: 020 7407 0234 or book online at http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-little/short-and-stark/

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