It is very unusual to find a play that actually does what it says on the tin, and Joel Horwood’s Short and Stark does exactly that. Following four stories, we see short bursts of these characters lives as they start facing problems that they have desperately tried to avoid.
The first play, aptly titled Everything I’ve Ever Done Wrong, follows the stand up nature of a sex-crazed character who messes up his only chance of happiness. Simon Yadoo takes on the stand-up nature of this monologue so effortlessly it feels more like a Friday down the pub.
The two plays that follow after give the show its most poigonant moments. Fairytale of New York, the shortest play, follows a man lonely at Christmas. But even though life is not working out for him, his ex-girlfriend still visits him with dinner. This play possibly has the best pop culture reference used in the evening (the protagonist is watching Home Alone II, and his ex-girlfriend comments how his life is going down the pan because he is not even watching the good Home Alone!) and is a personal highlight. In Polly Brown Horwood goes back to the monologue, and while there are some irksome moments, like the fact we have a whole life story in ten minutes, the acting from Tim Pritchett brings it beautifully to life.
Jim Russell’s direction of the play really does give Horwood’s words the special care they need. If it felt overplayed the words would seem unreal, even in overly dramatic moments such as in The Dim when our protagonist keeps his emotions bottled up, you can feel for him. It is very hard to find fictional characters that you just want to get up and hug…
One common theme throughout the evening seems to be the idea of the lone wolf. These characters have all found their own way in the world, whether it’s good or bad. Horwood really knows how to keep his characters well-rounded and likeable even when they are not supposed to be.
Short and Stark is the ultimate poster child for the short play – drama packed, amazingly acted and wonderfully written. Horwood is definitely a writer who lives up to the hype.
Short and Stark is playing at Southwark Playhouse until 13 July. For more information and tickets, see the Southwark Playhouse website.