By Greg Gould
Smith’s will be packed to the rafters on and off-stage next week as local writer and director Nigel Palfreman ushers his first solo short play collection into the venue’s snug spotlight.
Curated under the banner of “Hang on a Second …”, the showcase will feature eighteen local actors performing eight comedic short plays in just under two hours.
Variety is the name of the game, with the plays ranging in styles from the film noir-inspired “A 10 Minute Mystery” to the fantastical “The Four Horseman”, which gives the audience a front-row seat at the annual general meeting of the biblical Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.
Local musician Frank Zappia is also on the bill and will perform a new original song co-written with Palfreman for the event.
To say Palfreman has been busy in the lead up to the show would be an understatement.
“It’s been a bit insane,” he says of the rehearsal schedule needed to accommodate such a sprawling and diverse cast, with actors ranging in ages from mid-teens to over 50. “We have sessions on Mondays and Tuesdays, two sessions on Wednesdays and Sundays. A few lunchtimes too. It’s crazy, but we’re making it work.”
It’s the kind of work ethic and can-do attitude that has made Palfreman a mainstay in Canberra’s short play scene.
Over the last seven years, his work has appeared in numerous productions by indie theatre companies such as Budding Theatre and Ally Cat Productions and has twice featured in the gala finals of Short+Sweet Canberra — the local iteration of “the world’s largest ten-minute play festival”.
In 2015, his short play “Hang On A Minute I’ve Just Got A Message” was nominated for Best Original Work at the CAT Awards.
Clearly, Palfreman has an affinity for theatre’s short form.
“I love it. It’s so challenging. Every word has to count. Every moment needs to push the narrative forward. There’s no time for extraneous words or dialogue. It probably takes just as much skill to write a good short play as is does to write a long one.”
He also believes that short plays can be more accessible to audiences, especially those who don’t frequently watch theatre or are just looking for a fun night out.
“Theatre can be a hard sell. People are so used to bite-size entertainment now. I mean you go online, and every article tells you how long it will take to read — two-minutes or five-minutes. People want to know how long something will take before they engage with it. I guess that’s why ten-minute plays have become so popular – you know what you’re going to get. That and the fact that if you don’t like a particular play, you only need to get through eight or so minutes before the next one starts.”
Despite cultivating a solid reputation on the local short play circuit, it wasn’t until Palfreman became the 2019 Artist in Residence at Playing Field Studio, a local, volunteer-run community arts space, that he began to seriously consider putting together a show of his own.
“I’d been toying with the idea for a while, but getting the residency gave me the chance to set myself a definitive goal and deadline. Just knowing that I have a space I can go and spend some time putting words on paper or pacing around the room shouting out dialogue without the neighbours thinking I’m mad has been huge. I can’t thank Playing Field enough.”
As a full-time teacher, setting a real-world example for his students was also a big motivator for the show.
“As a drama teacher, I’m always conscious of making stuff and putting it out there.”
“I came to Australia from England about 15 years ago. For the first five years, I was getting my life in order. I got married. Bought a house. Had a kid. Started a new job. I was organising musicals and plays for the school. But soon I was trying to teach kids things I hadn’t done in years — like audition for a part. So, I started auditioning for things like Short+Sweet as an actor just to keep in touch. That’s when I found this amazing community of people doing short plays and started writing them. Apart from being a great creative outlet, I also made a lot of new friends — many of which are in this show.”
“Hang on a Second: a night of short plays (and one song)” is on at Smith’s Alternative from 7 pm on Friday 16 August (SOLD OUT) and 4 pm on Sunday 18 August. Bookings through smithsalternative.com