Can you do anything of theatrical note in under 10 minutes? Is there a place for a theatrical equivalent of flash fiction, whether as a testing ground for new writers or as a form in its own right? Given the evidence of the first night of Any Objections?, the answer would seem to be a resounding “Yes, but...”
Any Objections?, curated by Rachel Lynn Brody and Matthew McVarish, offered writers from around the world an opportunity to touch on the issues of LGBT rights in general and the question of equal marriage in particular — the latter point explaining why the cafe venue’s tables were dressed up like a wedding party.
As a rehearsed reading, this was a theatrical experience that required more than the usual suspension of disbelief from the audience, though it’s worth pointing out how well the young cast — Alisa Anderson, Adura Onashile, Dimitry Ser, and Kamal Hussain — acquitted themselves in a diverse range of roles. At times having an “off-stage” cast member read out the stage directions verged on distracting audio-description, but the overall approach undoubtedly helped focus attention on the actual writing.
Thursday night’s debut performance was the first of two alternating programmes mixing work by ‘novice playwrights’ with (for lack of a better term) specific axes to grind and several more-established writers keen to engage in the subject. As a result, it’s a bit of a bumpy ride. There are times when characterisation is ignored in favour of the issues; for example, in Jack Dickson’s externalised argument between a priest’s ‘Heart’ and ‘Conscience’ about whether he should officiate at a gay wedding. Or an Anonymous Indonesian writer’s take on breaking religious and cultural traditions. Yet, issue-led melodrama undoubtedly has its place; C K Gogo’s Just Maybe brilliantly mixed verbatim speeches (including Zimbabwe’s hate-filled President Mugabe) with simple physical staging to make its life-affirming point — clearly and unapologetically.
On an emotional level, though, there is still something to be said for the approach taken by Christine Jones, exploring the emotional universality within the relationship of an elderly male couple, and Paige Zubel, focusing on one man’s fear of public display of affection. While there’s something to be said for arguing the issues, and casting a spotlight on people’s hatred and fear, there is nothing more important than reminding ourselves that this is all, ultimately, about people.