5-Minute Plays

Lawrence Harbison (editor)

Applause Theatre Books

Released 25 July 2017

Review by Philip Fisher

On reading the introduction to a book published by Applause in its Acting Series and packed with around 50 tiny plays, it becomes apparent that as with so many other forms of life, short is proving popular.

Where cricket matches used to last five days and are now compressed into little more than an afternoon, the world of theatre has also attempted to accommodate the increasingly limited attention spans of today’s potential theatregoers.

Apparently, America has numerous festivals featuring short plays and the art form is becoming increasingly popular in the United Kingdom but, even in that light, a collection of plays written to be performed in no more than five minutes seems, at first sight, to be trying to get a quart into a half-pint pot.

In any event, the editor Lawrence Harbison has selected what he believes to be the best of breed from across the United States. Pleasingly, the writers between them prove that it is possible to fit almost any genre into a five-minute running time.

The selections in this volume vary from serious dramas to piece of abstract expressionism, the odd sample of sci-fi and most commonly short comedies. Those reading the book from start to finish are likely to conclude that, given only five minutes, comedy tends to work best.

The quality is variable but most of the plays are at least reasonably entertaining, while the best piece, I Am a Gun and I Kill People written by Erik Christian Hansen, is outstanding. It features no fewer than seven characters and is a powerful piece of political propaganda that has enough drama to compete with many full-length works.

There are also a large number of very witty mini-comedies, the pick of which is Out to Lunch by Judy Klass, a genuinely inventive example of comedy through role reversal.

One imagines that most people purchasing this book and its sister version for teens will be doing so to find acting and directing openings or perhaps audition opportunities but, with so much variety, this book will prove great fun for general readers as well.

Given our ever-shortening attention spans, there must be a strong possibility that in the near future, Britain will catch on and five-minute fever might begin to become popular at our theatre festivals too.