Until now, Samuel Beckett was thought to have written the shortest ever play – called Breath – which runs to 35 seconds. But London's Royal Court Theatre could soon produce a few rivals after it called for dramas with no more than 100 words.
The bite-sized scripts are part of the theatre's Young Writers Festival, which will see works by members of the public displayed alongside established dramatists to ensure that the "entire building will be overflowing with new short plays".
The works will not be performed, but written onto the walls, lifts and even the toilet doors of the theatre until the end of the festival in mid-April. "We liked the idea that the plays were seeping out of the building," said festival organiser Clare McQuillan.
Established writers who have already contributed to the project include playwright DC Moore, whose works have been performed at the National Theatre, and actress Zawe Ashton, a star of Channel 4 comedy Fresh Meat.
The subject matter that the mini-plays cover can certainly be described as diverse. There is romance, there are jokes, and even, in one handwritten offering, reference to "a deafening sound of a donkey sacrifice". "Many have involved a sudden revelation, that causes a shift," Ms McQuillan said. "Initially quite a few involved declarations of love."
The overall response has been so positive that the theatre is already running out of space to display the submissions. "There has been a deluge," Ms McQuillan said.
The Young Writers Festival is in its 39th year, but this is the first time it has included the 100-Word Play. It was the brainchild of Tom Lyons, who landed his job as a studio assistant after suggesting the idea during his interview for the role.
Ms McQuillan and her team have received 260 short works so far. More are expected after playwright and Royal Court resident Leo Butler gave a workshop over the weekend on how to write for the form. The Royal Court team have read all the submissions, and while they have to make sure "there isn't anything we wouldn't want on our walls", most of the mini-scripts will be displayed somewhere in the building.
"Our process is collaborative, not selective," Ms McQuillan said. "We put up as many as we can." Some of the new works can be taken home, as the festival organisers have printed a number of the plays on beer mats in the theatre bar, and on the back of some tickets.
Ms McQuillan added: "We wanted to show the festival was different to just staging plays and readings. We wanted the audience to get involved, and inspire them to explore what the play-writing process is like."
This year marks the "biggest ever" year of the festival, with two productions of new plays, four staged readings, 10 short plays and a series of free workshops and talks.
Two mini dramas, by Philip Hensher
Our resident literary genius (and author of Booker-shortlisted The Northern Clemency) offers some inspiration with two 100-word dramas of his own...
The Passive Mood
- So what you're saying is –
- The decision's been made.
- But who made it? Can I talk to them?
- They can't be spoken to, I'm afraid. There's nothing more that can be done.
- Please, this is – just let me speak to someone.
- Everything has been taken into consideration before the decision was reached.
- But who made the decision?
- Those who were appointed to take the matter into consideration.
- You do know you're talking about my son.
- Nothing more can be done, I'm afraid.
- Why are you doing this?
- Me? I'm not doing anything. It's not my business. I only work here.
The Elephant in the Room
- What's that?
- What's what?
- That...thing. There.
- What? I'm reading.
- I don't know how you can read with that...thing in the way.
- The light's so bad in here. I'm going to Habitat to buy a new light tomorrow.
- Habitat's closed down. It went bankrupt.
- That's right. Heal's, then. They've got nice lights.
- You've changed your password.
- On your computer. You've changed your password. I wasn't looking. I just saw.
- Oh yes.
- It was Jacqueline.
- Your password, it was Jacqueline. But now it isn't.
- No, it isn't. Is that better?
- The...It seemed to move. Light's better now.