Thursday, December 8

JB Shorts – 53Two

There are very few certainties in life. Hardly any in theatre. One constant, however, is that JB Shorts always delivers interesting ideas, great writing and talented acting.

For anyone unfamiliar, the showcase of short plays was born in the Joshua Brooks pub more than a decade ago as a way of giving TV writers the space to try out new work. The show has gone from strength to strength in its new home at 53Two and this selection of shorts is no different.

Energy bills, the political response to the pandemic, ableism, so-called cancel culture and discrimination. The issues being tackled are overwhelmingly influenced by the extraordinary times we are living through. However, at the heart of each play, are surprisingly well-drawn characters given the brevity of the texts.

Zoe Iqbal & James Quinn’s piece – I Want My Britain Back – is the most relevant to current headlines. Certain plot points felt like they had been added just hours before the actual performance.

A Cabinet minister is trapped inside her office with a Jack Monroe-inspired campaigning opponent. Meanwhile, violent demonstrations build outside. The danger of writing something so up to date is that the narrative feels stilted or unreal. No such problems here.

Krissi Bohn’s performance is particularly strong. She doesn’t just play a villain hellbent on doing wrong but has created a character with logical, principled arguments for her actions.

To Be A Slut is a laugh out loud exploration of disability discrimination. Steph Lacey, who has written and stars in the piece, has created something much more than that though. After the two leads both lose their claim to the moral high ground the audience is left to enjoy a love story blind to disability.

Ellie Rose’s direction of Trevor Suthers’ The Looks Department is simple but impressive. Some clever thoughts and witty lines can’t quite sustain this piece though. The plot and delivery both feel on one level and, as a result, the energy dips part way through.

As in previous iterations of JB Shorts, the stage is strewn with props and pieces of set from each of the plays. The cast all work together to build and take apart each others’ acting canvases, creating a cohesive and collegiate whole.

After a short interval, the audience is thrown right back into the action with Dave Simpson’s The Final Nail In The Coffin. It explores a world in which Boris Johnson appears to have been kidnapped from a supermarket car park. The play loses its way when it moves from the surreal to the melodramatic, but it’s incredibly well acted.

Five Women; Rambling does exactly what it says on the tin. You’d be hard pressed to find a better cast piece of work anywhere else. The acting from each cast member is so natural and the script from Cathy Crabb is so pitch perfect it almost feels like the audience is intruding on a set of real, private, emotional conversations.

The final play of the night – Recording History – is well worth waiting for. Three TV extras debate the accuracy of historical drama, being cancelled and the differences between a Troskyist and a Trotskyite. Witty and well observed.

Perhaps the quality of writers and actors makes this inevitable, but JB Shorts never disappoints. One of the most reliable nights of inventive writing in Manchester.

JB Shorts continues at 53Two until 22nd October, more information and ticket details can be found at https://www.53two.com/whatson

Reviewer: Peter Ruddick:

Reviewed: 11th October 2021

**Due to the individuality of each show North West End UK on this occasion will not offer an overall star rating for the evening

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