Theatre review: Light Bites/Tasty Treats

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LIGHT BITES C SOCO (VENUE 348) TASTY TREATS C SOCO (VENUE 348)

A GREAT idea this from Australian theatre company Straylight: a total of 12 brand new ten-minute plays divided into two groups of six and performed in rep; the first group, Light Bites, on odd days, and the second, Tasty Treats, on even. There's an interval half-way through each performance too, so if you're really pushed for time you can catch three plays for half the normal ticket price.

This pick 'n' mix format might hint at drama of variable quality, but there's not a single weak link in either programme.

Tasty Treats begins with 'Haircuts', a surprisingly moving sketch by Con Nats about a man's lifelong friendship with his Italian-Australian barber, Giuseppe. With the subtlest of brushstrokes, Nats paints a beautifully nuanced picture of a surrogate father-son relationship without ever labouring the point.

From there on in, the Tasty Treats programme lightens up: in 'Falling, Praying' by Tom Taylor, a couple of doomed skydivers find themselves in an awkward situation when they are reunited in the afterlife; 'A Little Blue' by David Bulmer draws a nice contrast between the dysfunctional relationship of a couple of beached whales and the equally dysfunctional relationship of the human couple driving to their rescue; and Jackie Greenland's 'Six Minutes and Counting' is a cleverly written farce in which the only thing standing between a sly British politician, a grizzled American general and the end of life as we know it is a ditzy cleaning lady and her Blockbuster video card.

Two studies of couple relationships round out the hour: in 'North', by Marcello Fabrizi, a husband and wife exchange home truths after being stranded in the bush when their car breaks down; and in 'Tight Spot' by Peter Shelley, a retired couple trapped in a lift are surprised to find this sudden moment of enforced intimacy allows them to be honest with each other for the first time in years.

The strand of surrealism that runs through much of the Tasty Treats programme continues into Light Bites. 'Gallery Sketch' by Nicholas Parsons has a high-minded artist and a hard-up gallery owner talking at wonderfully crossed purposes; Glynn Oram's 'The Unusual Suspect' finds Hamlet's best bud Horatio trying to explain the goings-on at Elsinore to a couple of hard-bitten and deeply unimpressed Aussie cops; and in 'The Gap' by Phoebe Hartley, two goldfish try to overcome the limitations of their two-second memories and escape from their tank.

The remaining three plays in Light Bites are probably the strongest in the programme. 'Ready-to-Fit Pergola Kit' echoes the elegiac tone of 'Haircuts': an elderly couple appear to be arguing, but it gradually emerges that the woman is dead and her husband is trying to summon her spirit by indulging in some laughably inept black magic. Alex Broun's 'Beijing Big Mac' starts as a comedy but ends up making quite a profound point about the attitudes many "serious" travellers have towards people they think of as tourists; and finally 'Fight/Flight Mode' by Suzie Miller takes a stark, uncomfortable look at what happens in the minds of wealthy white westerners, post-9/11, when they find themselves boarding the same flight as men "of Middle Eastern appearance".

Kudos to director Annette Rowlison for pulling together such a disparate group of shorts and making them all sing; and also to her five-strong cast – Nicholas Gledhill, Andrew Johnston, Peter McAllum, Toni Murphy and Kath Perry – for bringing such a varied cast of characters so vividly to life.

ROGER COX

Light Bites until 31 August. Tomorrow 1:30pm and 2pm. Tasty Treats until 30 August. Today 1:30 and 2pm.