Saturday, July 13

JB Shorts 24 – 53two, Manchester

A bare stage in a formerly disused railway viaduct would seem an unprepossessing setting, but when hosted by Simon Naylor and the superb team at 53two, JB Shorts has firmly established itself as a ‘must see’ on the Manchester Theatre scene over the previous twenty-three seasons of its existence. Tonight is no exception, the six plays- each lasting just fifteen minutes – address both the political and personal in modern society and make for an eclectic and enthralling theatrical evening.

Isobel Openshaw Saves the Day

Writer Joyce Branagh takes the lead as the eponymous Isobel, an Aldi shop assistant who decides to stand for election to parliament against the Conservative forces of darkness embodied by Rory Cheese Bogg (Callum Sim). Elements of Victoria Woodesque writing pepper the script and whilst the political satire is broad and lacking the barbed sharpness it intends, the targets are easily hit. The piece works best when the character interpretations are to the fore, Sim is a strong comedy presence, especially as ‘Scouse Caff Kath’ and Bogg with Joanne Dakin in a series of bizarre wigs providing excellent support. The audience vote at the end provided a tight finale and left us with the entreaty to SFAABNTE (Stop Fucking About And Just Be Nice To Eachother), something upon which we can all agree.

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Aftercare

Bree (Meg Narongchai) and Tobi (Trayvaughn Robins) start chatting over a cigarette whilst taking a break from a sex party (as you do) and gradually take the tentative steps to starting what may become a relationship. Despite the slightly incongruous setting, this short was a conventional ‘meet cute’ where the ‘cute’ is actually dressed in rubber and leather. Robins depicts Tobi as ostensibly confident, Amazonian in appearance with a long blonde wig, juxtaposed well against the slighter and shyer Bree, Narongchai less sure but slowly emerging into their character. Development is required on the dialogue which lacked clarity and given the tight timeframe needed to move the story along to its conclusion in a less ponderous manner.

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Food Fight

Written by Lindsay Williams and Cathy Crabb. ‘Food Fight’ was the short that had the potential to develop into a longer format, the story of a clash of ideology at a local food bank chiming well with the audience with its study of the differing perceptions of the ‘deserving and undeserving poor’ being cleverly wrapped in a farce comedy. Amy (Jessica Ellis) has been a necessary recipient of the services provided by Davina (Jenny Williams) and takes exception to the different ways the clients are perceived by the team of workers. An absurd argument over the distribution of chocolate Santa Claus leads to the eponymous ‘Food Fight’ with excellent comedy relief being provided by Chris Brett as Foggy and Emily Ash as Lila. The brevity of the show was an issue and it felt like a longer slot would have built the tension between Davina and Amy better and allowed the comedy to breathe. Promising.

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Life is no Joke

A delicate study of the relationship between a father and son, ‘Life is no Joke’ is a beautifully drawn and paced short, with excellent performances by all three of the protagonists. Mike (Darren Jeffries) opens as a struggling stand-up comedian, purposefully making the audience uncomfortable with a halting nervous style and awful material. Using his wife Kathy (Amy Du Quesne) as narrator, writer Dave Simpson shows us how Mike reached this point, his act actually being a tribute to his late father Kenny (John Henshaw) and an indication of his love and respect. The scenes between Mike and Kathy outlining their early relationship are funny and warm and the resolution over the timeframe perfectly suited the format. Henshaw allows Kenny to steal his scenes without ever becoming overbearing and the cast mesh perfectly together. A real treat and great example of the art of short theatre.

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is not a Play

James Quinn directed and co-wrote (with Trevor Suthers) this engaging piece which examines the world of deep fakes and delivers a real twist in the tale with the final unexpected scene. Rene (John Tueart) portrays a struggling actor, his claim to fame as the ‘Vicar off Emmerdale’ allowing him to affect thespian airs whilst struggling to make a living. His sister Margarete (Victoria Tunnah) is sent a compromising photo of Rene which he dismisses as a deep fake concocted by a spurned rival actor. Both Tunnah and Tueart spark well in this two handler which appears to reach a mundane conclusion before taking the ‘Black Mirror’ route on the final page. Excellently contrived and genuinely interesting premise with serious notes under the lightly played comedy.

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mrs Proops

Our final offering has Kathy (Isabel Ford) as a recently deceased woman watching her brother Gaz (Toby Hadoke) return from her funeral to discover she has left her home to Mrs Proops, her feline companion; Gaz then inheriting upon the moggies demise. She watches, frustrated, as he plans to poison before relenting and understanding his sisters desire for him to engage and take responsibility for another living creature. This redemption is partially achieved in the writing, but Gaz needed more malign intent at the outset to successfully demonstrate the change by the conclusion. The puppetry work of Kery Ely was excellent, and Ford was outstanding as Kathy, with a stronger conclusion this short would shine.

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

JB Shorts is a highlight on the Manchester theatre calendar, it demonstrates the depth of artistry across the Manchester cultural industries and provides a superb platform for new writing and acting talent to shine.

Reviewer: Paul Wilcox

Reviewed: 8th May 2024

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