If one of the best things about a fringe festival is experiencing theatre you might not normally have paid to see, then there can be few better choices than a collection of short plays. If you don’t like one there isn’t long to wait for another that might take your fancy. Turtle Soup’s selection is a great example of this, showcasing good new writing and some strong performances.
The idea behind Virtual Dust is simple. Ideas and work that would otherwise be gathering – you guessed it – virtual dust on a hard drive somewhere in Manchester.
It is billed as an ‘eclectic’ night, and this isn’t false advertising. The five shorts cover homophobia, cancel culture, therapy, family rifts, philosophy and grief. Sounds a lot? That doesn’t even scratch the surface.
The plays are presented simply in the Fitzgerald using basic props and costumes. This is bar theatre at its finest.
Do be prepared to squeeze in and fight for your place though. The first night was sold out but it looked like they may even have allocated more tickets than they had seats.
Victor’s Secret by Joel Dyer takes a well-worn idea and gives it a new spin. When a drag queen is interrupted on stage by a gobby straight interloper who is really to blame?
The genuinely funny and touching piece makes good use of the space but some of the performers really struggle to project so certain scenes are lost.
One of the highlights is Afterthoughts. Writer Emma Rushfirth imagines how a rock band on the verge of a breakup would handle counselling.
The characters might be fairly stereotypical and the plot not too surprising, but this is brilliantly observed. Witty, well performed and containing a gloriously choreographed urinal scene.
Charlie Hinkley’s Part of the Furniture is a great idea. When a woman wanders into a shop in search of retail therapy she’s faced with a seemingly empty store. Seemingly because this vendor specialises in metaphysical furnishings. Items to be understood, not seen.
There are some laugh out loud moments and who wouldn’t want a drinks cabinet featuring the spirit of endeavour? However, the joke drags a little and the payoff is a tad disappointing.
The short interval is interrupted by screaming as three women in wedding outfits burst through the doors. It is clear the bride’s big day has been ruined by her sister who has admitted sleeping with the fiancé. Together the pair, and Mum, try and resolve the crisis.
Martyr’sone continuous scene is interspersed with confession booth moments as secrets are revealed. Jennifer Roberts’s script won’t change the world, but it is plausible and enjoyable plus the final line is very funny.
The evening ends on a surprisingly downbeat note. Flowers by the Towpath by Harry Blackburn focuses on a conversation between two strangers. What begins as a Beckettian discussion while waiting for bus that might never come soon turns into a dark look at the impact of grief.
It is nicely performed but could probably do with a trigger warning or two and does result in a rather depressing conclusion to the performance as a whole.
Overall, this is a good selection of shows. The evening could benefit from skipping along a little quicker. Tighter scene changes and better use of music perhaps?
However, the writing and performances are both above average. You could do a lot more wrong than taking a punt on this fringe highlight.
Playing until 30th July 2023. Tickets and more information about the Greater Manchester Fringe can be found here: https://www.greatermanchesterfringe.co.uk/.
Reviewer: Peter Ruddick
Reviewed: 23rd July 2023
North West End UK Rating: