A Miniaturists evening pares back the one-act play concept to its simplest – a collection of new short pieces, performed back to back. Where other festivals and evenings try and create something more high-concept, the Miniaturists rely on the quality of the work they produce – and with past creatives including David Eldridge, Rory Kinnear, Moira Buffini, Hannah Eidinow, Andrew Paul and Daniel Rigby, the work is professionally written, directed and performed.
However, this particular evening suffered a little from some underwhelming pieces – proving, once again, that you can get some of the most talented people together and still create something generally decent, but little more. This was still an engaging evening, but with an equal number of pieces that worked and pieces that didn't work as well.
Anna Jordan's Staunch (which opened the night) and Tom Morton-Jones' The Earthworks (which closed it) worked beautifully as short plays: with interesting plot lines, quickly introduced characters and situations, quirky one-liners and important emotional themes, these pieces felt like they stood on their own. Staunch paired brothers Chris and Stephen Leask as brothers at their father's funeral – and used the opportunity to play cutely with familial relationships – while The Earthworks used the time-honoured man-and-woman-talking-in-late-night-bar concept to bring in greater themes of loss, responsibility and particle physics. Both had lovely emotional moments as well as some wonderful humour, especially well done by Abigail Andjel and Philip Desmeules in The Earthworks (cleanly directed by Nicola Samer).
However, the second and fourth shows of the night (Denise Kean's Belarus and Will Bourdillon's In Habit) seemed to struggle with the short play concept – both felt like greater parts of a whole, and didn't take enough time to explain what was going on; in both cases, I felt like I ended the piece with more questions than answers. There's nothing inherently wrong with performing excerpts, but not defining location (ironically enough) in Belarus and not defining relationships in In Habit meant that neither came together as well as they could have done.
The middle piece, Stephen Sharkey's Voyager, has a much simpler concept, but seemed to border on comedy sketch over short piece, which made it feel a little out of sync with the rest of the night. While it was amusing to see Dr Carl Sagan and Dr Frank Drake (founder of SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) explain to Dr Timothy Leary why he couldn't just "go off into space", it required a little knowledge of all three characters – again, it could have done with more exposition, which Sharkey tried to do with an opening with a prison guard that didn't quite explain as clearly as it could have done.
It's inevitable that short play evenings are mixed bags, mostly because putting a collection of pieces together highlights the faults as well as the merits across all of them. What the Miniaturists do well is create a framework in which these pieces can operate – compared to other short play evenings, their production is slick and professional, and has clearly generated a large pool of interested parties. While some of these pieces didn't work as well as others, the overall event was a success – and considering this is the 37th outing for this company, it's clearly got the stamina to keep going, and the next one (in November) should hopefully feature more hits than misses!