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Apr 19th

Comedians by Trevor Griffiths at Bolton Octagon

By Caroline May

A text for tonight.  Perhaps we can’t all be Max Bygraves.  But we can try.

You’re an aspiring stand-up comedian; you’ve been coming to this evening class in a rundown FE college in Manchester every week for months; you’ve absorbed the wise words of the tutor, one-time bill-topper Eddie Waters, “The Lancashire Lad”; you’ve taken his advice about being honest, true, compassionate and working through the laughs not for the laughs; you’ve honed your act, practised at home, learned the lines: now it’s the big night when you’re performing an open spot at the local Working Men’s Club and secretly hoping to impress that agent from The Smoke, Bert Challenor, who’s in the audience supposedly just to assess your work but who might offer you a route to the big time and an escape from your miserable life. 

And then Bert gives you a tip-off: all he wants is gags. 

So do you scrap your act and try to remember as many near-the-knuckle one-liners and Christmas cracker jokes as possible in an attempt to ingratiate yourself with the man handing out the contracts?  Or do you stay loyal to your art, and Eddie?

Although Trevor Griffiths’ 1975 play is astonishingly specific in its period and locale, it couldn’t be more topical at a time when the biggest names in stand-up can sell out arenas, and Manchester is teeming with classes ranging from the improv games of Comedy Sportz to a BA (Hons) Comedy: Writing and Performance at Salford University.  And although the politically correct alternative comedians of the 1980s were supposed to have killed off the bigoted world view epitomised by Bernard Manning, not only have those frilly-shirted, bow-tied gag-merchants come back to enjoy a post-modern popularity, but the new breed of stand-ups are constantly crossing the lines of taste and decency with their “ironic” reclaiming of the offensive.

The playwright assembles a group of comic stereotypes, including a Jew and two types of Irishman, just like the set-up for a shaggy dog story, but David Thacker’s excellent actors transform them into completely rounded human beings while retaining the flavour of their archetypal origins. 

John Branwell is brilliant as Cockney wide-boy agent Bert Challenor, a salty cynic who believes in aiming for the lowest common denominator, and Richard Moore makes a fine contrast as the lugubrious and slightly tragic tutor Eddie. 

While all the comic wannabees are clearly drawn and well-detailed, Mark Letheren as Phil Murray, the born straight man, gives the most unselfish and thankless performance of the evening; for a gifted actor to take half-funny lines and kill them stone dead takes real skill as well as self-sacrifice.

Even the tiny roles are a delight: Howard Ward doubles up as the grumpy college Caretaker and virtuosic club pianist, and Simon Nagra plays lost student Mr Patel like a bemused Lou Costello.

Kieran Hill as the iconic Gethin Price is big, beautiful and just a touch camp.  When he reveals his Mohican-style shaved head and thick white greasepaint, the intended homage to Grock the clown smacks more of a character who has escaped from Taboo: The Boy George Musical.  At this point you realise that his turn isn’t comedy but performance art, and that even if he never plays Hulme Hippodrome he only has to wait for the Greenroom to open 1983 to be showered with Arts Council funding.

Helen Goddard’s design cleverly switches from a frighteningly accurate reconstruction of a down-at-heel 1970s classroom, (even the square metal dustbin is an authentic period piece) to a seedy northern club with a low-rent compère (Russell Richardson).

Seeing Comedians is like coming across the final episode of a six-part sit-com where all the characters have long been established and the grand climax has no context or emotional resonance for the casual viewer; and for a play about comedy it’s surprisingly unfunny.  However David Thacker’s enjoyable, well-paced and superbly acted production is highly recommended - for the drama, if not the laughs.


Comedians is on at Bolton Octagon until Saturday 8 May 2010

Tickets: from £9.00

Eves: Mon-Sat @ 7.30

Matinees: Fri 16, Sat 17, Mon 19, Sat 24 and Wed 28 Apr @ 2pm

Apr 9th

The Comedy of Errors at Manchester Royal Exchange

By Caroline May
Comedyy of errors 2.jpg

Shakespeare’s Plautus-originated farce about two pairs of twins separated at birth isn’t short of revivals, but here we have a perennial favourite completely fresh-minted in the Royal Exchange’s best production of the Bard since Greg Herzov’s Tempest.

 Guest director Roxana Silbert hasn’t felt the need to impose some radical interpretation, trendy concept or modern update on the play but lets it speak for itself - and how refreshing it is to see Shakespearean comedy, plain and unadorned, working so well on the stage 400 years after it was written.  The production is vigorous and unpretentious, with the bare-boned simplicity of those delightful outdoor shows that spring up around the country in the summer months. 

The casting needs to be absolutely perfect if the slapstick is to come over as knock-about comedy rather than cruel and sadistic, and the choice of ensemble is inspired: every actor is instantly likeable and the result is a charming and cheerful comedy of mistaken identities.  Sam Collings is notably winning as a well-heeled, sun-blocked Syracusean tourist, and the sparky relationship with his solicitous slave (Michael Jibson) veers between funny, tender, intimate and irritable as the day’s confusions ensue.  Jack Farthing as Antipholus’s long-lost brother has the arrogance and sense of entitlement of the handsome court favourite, and Owain Arthur as his bungling and abused servant is suitably long-suffering - the two blonde, chubby Dromios are a great double-act with a convincing resemblance to one another.

 Even the less colourful characters like the Duke of Ephesus (Munir Khairdin) and Egeon (Fred Ridgeway) are attractive and brimming with life, and Jan Chappell’s Abbess is impressive and imposing as she descends from the gods like a true deus (or dea) ex machina.

 There isn’t a stick of furniture on Anthony MacIlwaine’s stark stage - a plain white raised ring with a judiciously used revolve at its centre - so the action is never impeded and the focus is entirely on the characters.  This means that Steve Brown’s sound design and Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting are vital elements in creating a sense of place and atmosphere, and the costume department ably assists with lovely rich eastern fabrics cut in an Elizabethan interpretation of Byzantium.

 Resisting temptation to ham up the comic set-pieces, the production runs straight through in a modest 90 minutes without interval - a typical example of the evening’s elegance and restraint.  If this is accomplished piece is representative of Roxana Silbert’s work I hope the Royal Exchange invites her back at the earliest opportunity.


The Comedy of Errors is on until Saturday 8 May 2010

Prices: £8.50-£29.50

Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30, Sat @ 8pm [not Tues 13 April]

Matinees: Wed @ 2.30, Sat @ 4pm and Tues 13 April @ 2.30

Box Office: 0161 833 9833

Mar 19th

JB Shorts 3 at Joshua Brooks Bar, Manchester

By Caroline May

Back again after two successful runs last year, the latest JB Shorts show - six brand new ten-minute plays written by top TV writers - returns to the basement of Joshua Brooks on Princess Street.

Work of this calibre, coupled with a comparatively short time commitment, attracts actors that Manchester’s top theatres would envy: JB Shorts 3 includes Chris Hannon (Lunch Monkeys), Vicky Binns (Molly from Corrie), Anthony Crank (Shameless) and Peter Slater (Ideal), while local luminaries Caroline Clegg and Noreen Kershaw are among the directors.

As usual there is an eclectic mix of style and content.  Backlash by James Quinn (currently gracing the stage of the Library Theatre) is a spoof party political broadcast satirising the anti-political correctness brigade; Lindsay Williams’ Quixotry exposes the fraught world of Scrabble tournaments; and Andrew Kirk uses multimedia technology and a bunny-girl outfit to put a relationship under pressure in I’m Mad, Me. 

After the break (featuring some very disturbing invisible theatre) S.H.A.G.G. by Dianne Whitley imagines what might happen if Russell Brand hosted a sex addicts support group in Chorlton-cum-Hardy (very convincing turn from Marvyn Dickinson as the tousle haired host who seems to be mainly addicted to himself), followed by the Trevor Suthers comedy Shakespeare’s Monkeys, a surreal piece which is dominated by Antony Bessick’s astonishing physical performance as a semi-simian zookeeper.

The finale, and my favourite, was Peter Kerry’s Truncheons and Blackberries which had sharp writing from the off, fantastic acting all round, a nice touch of farce and enough meat in the concept for a full-length play.  Peter Slater and John Catterall are a pair of memorably dim PC Plods, Verity Henry is their sexy but foul-mouthed Deputy Chief Constable, and Annamarie Bayley is a top Daily Mail columnist who inadvertently uncovers an explosive secret.

The fast-paced format of JB Shorts makes it a winner with audiences because even if one sketch isn’t to your taste another will be along in ten minutes (a much better service than the Eccles tram, I can tell you).  Here’s looking forward to JB Shorts 4.

Till Saturday 27 March (not Sunday) @ 7pm

Tickets £5 on door


Joshua Brooks

106 Princess Street

Lancashire M1 6NG

Mar 18th

Glengarry Glen Ross at Manchester Library Theatre

By Caroline May

They say you should write what you know.  When David Mamet had a holiday job in a sales office pitching valueless real estate to credulous punters he stored up this first-hand experience to create his iconic 1980s stage play Glengarry Glen Ross.

The salesmen of this particular firm are, like all sales reps, psychotic, paranoid, blame-shifting, duplicitous egomaniacs, constantly harking back to some golden age when commissions fell like pennies from heaven, and each convinced that the manager is passing them poor leads and no-hope clients.  Bad enough when you’re trying to earn an honest buck on a day-to-day basis - but when this month’s sales figures will either win you a Cadillac or your cards, unconventional and desperate tactics are required.

Anyone expecting fireworks and melodrama will be surprised by director Chris Honer’s subtle and refined reading.  He gives us a humane Tolstoy-like perspective on the characters, reflecting their internal view of themselves rather than crudely externalising their flaws and failings.

It is perhaps unusual, but you can get away with this kind of understatement in the intimate confines of the Library Theatre (a proximity emphasised by Judith Croft’s design which puts the Act 1 set right at the front of the stage).  And pitch perfect casting means you recognise the characters before they even open their mouths.  Leigh Symonds’ apologetic Lingk is a professional victim; James Quinn’s sweaty Aaronow is a little guy in a big guy’s body; Paul Barnhill’s nerdish Williamson has been promoted above his abilities but is too dumb to realise it; and John McAndrew’s baby-faced Moss is brazen in his treachery.  All these qualities can be seen at a glance, so there’s never any need for the actors to overstate characteristics which they already embody.  

That incredibly powerful actor David Fleeshman, here as the delusional has-been Shelly Levene, plays against his own inherent physicality and gives us a detailed, almost finickerty interpretation of the role that rationalises all the conflicts and contradictions in the man.

Finally Richard Dormer is mesmerising as smiling wolf Richard Roma, the company’s ruthless über-salesman.  Dangerous, charming and charged like an electric wire, he’s an alpha-male in a testosterone-fuelled world yet almost girlish in the way he dances and flirts to achieve his own ends.   

Judith Croft’s set is superbly realised, from the Chinese restaurant’s plush velvet booths to the faithful recreation of a shabby 1980s office where even the cheap plywood desks appear to be authentic period pieces.

Those who are familiar with the film should be warned that the dramatis personae of the stage version are slightly different.  Ironically Chris Honer’s production is more forensic and close-up than any film would dare to be with a Mamet script, while high production values and a first-rate cast make this one not to miss.


Glengarry Glen Ross is on until Saturday 3 April 2010

Prices: £8.00-£18.00 (concessions available)

Eves: Mon-Thurs @ 7.30pm; Fri & Sat @ 8pm

Matinees: Thurs & Sat @ 3pm

Box Office: 0161 236 7110

Mar 15th

And Did Those Feet at Bolton Octagon

By Caroline May

The 2007 sell-out sensation And Did Those Feet by Bolton writers Les Smith and Martin Thomasson is back at the Octagon for a second triumphant run.  This show is living proof that new writing can succeed beyond the purlieus of sophisticated metropolitan audiences and that regional theatregoers are equally hungry for new plays - particularly if they’re about the local football team.

 In 1923 Bolton is an industrial town still recovering from the Great War and further shattered by an economic downturn which brings redundancies and short-time shifts in its wake - not a glimmer of the glamorous Roaring Twenties here.  The only ray of hope for ordinary folk is the Wanderers’ FA Cup prospects and an impossible dream of watching them play in the final at Wembley’s brand new stadium.

 Sport serves mainly as a backdrop for stories about grief, love and politics among a small bunch of diehard Trotters supporters.  Young factory worker and devoted footie fan Ted (Mark Letheren) is trying to arrange his wedding to totally unsporty and very religious Martha (Naomi Radcliffe) but cup ties and cutbacks keep getting in the way.  Their neighbours Alf (Huw Higginson) and Hilda (Susan Twist) still miss their son Billy (Chris Finch), a one-time apprentice player at Burnden Park who died in the trenches, but while Hilda keeps Billy’s memory alive by attending games her husband is pained by the slightest reminder of his loss. 

 The flashbacks to war are genuinely affecting, and the writers create a tangible sense of what the peacetime depression meant for entire communities of working-class labourers.  But there’s also a great deal of warm northern humour, notably from Martin Barrass reprising his role as eccentric newsagent Bob who walks all over the country in reinforced clogs to follow his beloved team.

 The production is revived by its original director Mark Babych, the Octagon’s highly regarded Artistic Director Emeritus, who seems to have added a lustre to an already highly polished product, aided by a revised script which now plays up the celebrated White Horse incident (where a huge mass of unticketed spectators burst through a turnstile and onto the pitch) with its spine-chilling foreshadowing of Hillsborough.  Lesley Hutchinson’s slickly and imaginatively choreographed crowd scenes are a comic treat, but my highlight remains Martin Barrass as the terrier-like Bob, a little Jack Russell of a chap in a flat cap and weskit who practically gets up on his hind legs and wags his tail with enthusiasm when David Jack scores.

 Although I’m still not convinced that And Did Those Feet is a play which has any relevance to an audience outside a BL postcode, it continues to enjoy an undefeated run on its home ground and serves as a marvellous showcase for the combined skills of everyone involved.


And Did Those Feet is on at Bolton Octagon until Saturday 10 April 2010

Tickets: from £9.00

Eves: Mon-Sat @ 7.30

Matinees: Fri 12 March, Sat 13 March, Sat 27 March, Wed 31 March and Sat 10 April

Mar 3rd

1984 by George Orwell at Manchester Royal Exchange

By Caroline May


George Orwell’s dystopian post-war novel Nineteen Eighty-Four imagines life in the future as a mixture of Stalinist Russia, Brave New World and The Blitz, with a splash Cold War paranoia thrown in for good measure. 

Our hero Winston Smith, a supposedly loyal drone in the Ministry of Truth, secretly dreams of smashing the despotic Party organisation which runs the state.  But the political and personal merge when Winston risks an illegal love affair with his colleague Julia despite the constant threat of discovery by ubiquitous two-way telescreens, a network of infant spies, and the terrifying Thought Police.

Matthew Dunster’s adaptation remains strictly faithful to the novel even down to the Brief Encounter-style dialogue, and has a traverse feel with a catwalk bisecting the auditorium.  This is a fast-paced production where scenes and characters come thick and fast, furniture and props literally fly in and out, and the cast members take a large number of roles between them.

Paul Wills’ design allows for effortless and rapid scene changes, and when the stage splits to reveal the high-tech torture chamber in the Ministry of Love the effect is truly impressive. 

Jonathan McGuinness as Winston (bearing a striking resemblance to Orwell himself) exudes bemusement and vulnerability as he goes on his perilous journey of self-discovery and rebellion, while Caroline Bartleet’s Julia has a confidence that comes from knowing exactly how to play the system purely to achieve her own ends and not from any underlying principals.

However the highlight of the evening is not some state-of-the-art special effect but an old-fashioned piece of theatrical rhetoric.  Paul Moriarty delivers an extract from banned book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, which I can assure you is as boring as it sounds, and invests it with such clarity and emotion that dry prose becomes inspiring oratory.  The spontaneous round of applause which Mr Moriarty earned on press night was well-deserved.

The grim and restrictive life of Oceania in 1984 may not appear an exact parallel with Britain in 2010, but since the Iraq conflict has resulted in democratic nations using detention without trial and state-sanctioned torture, and our own government has been caught trying to re-write the history of why the war ever happened, Orwell’s nightmare vision now seems more prescient than ever.


1984 is on until Saturday 27 March 2010

Prices: £8.50-£29.50

Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30, Sat @ 8pm

Matinees: Wednesday @ 2.30, Saturday @ 4pm and Tuesday 9 March @ 2.30pm

Box Office: 0161 833 9833

Mar 3rd

Andersen's English by Sebastian Barry at Library Theatre, Manchester

By Caroline May

Renowned touring theatre company Out of Joint are reunited with award-winning Irish writer Sebastian Barry for this new play about that nineteenth-century colossus of fiction Charles Dickens. 

The action takes place during the summer of 1857 when fellow celebrity writer Hans Christian Andersen makes an unexpected and interminable visit to Dickens’ new home in Kent.  The irritation caused in the household by the Dane’s eccentric and childlike behaviour is exacerbated by his poor grasp of English.  Their visitor however is delighted to find himself surrounded by a huge ménage of larger-than-life characters and is oblivious to increasing undercurrents of tension. 

This production is a dream meeting of fine writer, superlative cast and top notch production.  The dialogue has the satisfying style and literariness of a sketch by Boz himself, yet avoids seeming stilted or awkward because of the skilful delivery of great actors like David Rintoul and Niamh Cusack. 

Rintoul’s self-centred and self-dramatising Dickens is alive with passion and vitality, yet has a complete want of empathy for those around him (declaring that a “play is more real than real life”), casually wrecking his loved ones’ lives like a moustache-twirling villain in a melodrama. 

Niamh Cusack gains all our sympathy as his worn-out wife Catherine.  Only just recovering from a career of constant childbirth, she finds her role in the household usurped by her younger sister, her elder children being sent away, and her husband planning a separation.  Cusack matches Rintoul for ardour but is given additional opportunities for pathos, and seizes them.

Danny Sapani plays overgrown schoolboy Andersen as a blundering but well-meaning innocent all unconscious of the emotional atrocities surrounding him.  Although Barry’s intention was presumably to shine a new light on Dickens’ life by refracting it through the prism of Anderson’s eyes, somehow the famous Hans becomes overshadowed by bewitching little Irish housemaid Aggie, charmingly rendered by Lisa Kerr.  An Anglo-Hibernian theme creeps more and more into the narrative, underscored by those sentimental Thomas Moore songs so beloved of the Victorians.

Barry has written a compelling narrative and wonderfully rounded characters, and director Max Stafford-Clark brings them exuberantly to the stage with a variety of techniques ranging from puppetry to singing. 

Lucy Osborne’s set is cluttered with all the impedimenta of a traditional Victorian home, but works brilliantly with Tim Bray’s lighting to evoke scenes as diverse as a hilltop ramble, a moonlit fishing expedition, an impromptu cricket match and the Crystal Palace.

Great literary biographies invoke the spirit of an author’s work as well as creating a living portrait of their subject.  Sebastian Barry illuminates his subject, Dickens, by turning Dickens into a character of Dickensian proportions, and in the process becomes himself a writer of Dickensian dimensions.


Andersen’s English is on at Manchester Library Theatre until Saturday 6 March 2010 and then touring

Prices: £13.00-£18.00 (concessions available)

Eves: Mon-Thurs @ 7.30pm; Fri & Sat @ 8pm

Matinees: Thurs & Sat @ 3pm

Box Office: 0161 236 7110


Feb 15th

I Ought to be in Pictures by Neil Simon at Manchester Library Theatre

By Caroline May

I Ought to be in Pictures isn’t one of Neil Simon’s better-known plays, but it follows the scientifically proven formula of classics like The Sunshine Boys and The Odd Couple: when apparently incompatible individuals live in close proximity they generate friction, which creates sparks of comedy gold. 

Herb (Stuart Fox) is a typical Simon character in the Walter Matthau mould, a quarrelsome curmudgeon with a tender heart buried somewhere beneath his grizzly exterior.  He has long escaped the claustrophobic atmosphere of New York to live the dream in the Californian sunshine as a Hollywood screenwriter.  Unfortunately a bad case of writer’s block is causing trouble in his professional life, and commitment-phobia is hacking off his no-strings girlfriend Steffy.

Then a 19-year-old back-packer called Libby turns up on Herb’s doorstep with ambitions of her own to make it big in the film business - with or without her father’s help. 

Stuart Fox as Herb initially delivers a first-rate impression of a grumpy, self-obsessed has-been, but visibly melts with the gradual rediscovery of his paternal feelings.

Elizabeth Carling as Steffy brings real warmth to the witty and wise divorcée who tries to encourage the father-daughter relationship without herself turning into a jealous step-mother.  And no one has carried off white flared trousers with such aplomb since Charley’s Angels.

The real find of the evening is Kirsty Osmon, making a striking professional debut in the role of Libby.  All tomboyish charm and coltish bare legs, Ms Osmon is absolutely convincing as a free spirit who can hike across a continent or tune a car engine, yet who is still clearly very young and vulnerable.  The impromptu midnight rehearsal of her audition speech with only an angle-poise lamp for a spotlight shows how naïve this seemingly streetwise New Yorker remains. 

Paul Wills’ design, a loving homage to the 1970s, shows us Herb’s chaotic life embodied in his scruffy open-plan apartment, with a glimpse of the symbolic citrus trees through a sunny window.

Director Paul Jepson has concentrated on the play’s dramatic implications - in the hands of such an excellent cast the smart one-liners can take care of themselves.


I Ought to be in Pictures is on until Saturday 27 February 2009

Prices: £8.00-£18.00 (concessions available)

Eves: Mon-Thurs @ 7.30pm; Fri & Sat @ 8pm

Matinees: Thurs & Sat @ 3pm

Box Office: 0161 236 7110


Feb 8th

A Midsummer Night's Dream at Bolton Octagon

By Caroline May

Shakespeare’s magical comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the latest play in the Octagon season to be directed by the Artistic Director, David Thacker, who won a brace of Olivier Awards for his RSC production of Pericles twenty years ago.

The Sergeant Pepper-influenced publicity flags up a Swinging Sixties theme, so it’s surprising to find the auditorium initially awash with sombre army uniforms and Che Guevara-style propaganda posters - a nod to the very un-swinging military dictatorship which seized power in Athens in 1967.

Rob Edwards (eponymous hero of that 1990 Pericles) doubles the roles of Theseus, head of Athens’ repressive jackbooted regime, and Oberon, the equally cruel despot of fairyland.  Paula Jennings is Theseus’ black-veiled spoil-of-war Hippolyta who becomes translated into a white mini-dressed, sexually liberated Titania. 

Designer Ashley Shairp’s acid-coloured playground of a forest, teeming with bouncing balls and magic lanterns, seems to unleash the potential in every character, including a quartet of mismatched lovers fleeing from the city, and a weaver with a thespian bent and an ass’s head.

Vanessa Kirby’s heart-broken Helena sets the stage alight with her passion, energy and comic timing - no wonder Rob Edwards’ magisterial Oberon is so visibly taken by her.  Compassion for the young mortal melts his hard heart and leads to a sequence of reconciliations, including his own with Paula Jennings’ luscious and uninhibited Titania.

Kieran Hill makes an unusually good-looking Bottom and is beautifully rigged out for his Act V turn as Pyramus, but Russell Dixon’s Peter Quince runs off with the comedy honours for a spot on portrait of a fruity old-school actor in a classic piece of character acting.

The handling of the verse is uniformly excellent, and David Thacker’s inspired use of the entire auditorium really brings the show alive, ably assisted by music director Carol Sloman’s trippy score and Wayne Dowdeswell’s hallucinogenic lighting.

The production could benefit from being played at a much faster pace as its current running time is more akin to Hamlet than a comedy which I once saw performed in ninety minutes flat.  Nevertheless this is a colourful, energetic and lucid production of the original rom-com.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream is on at Bolton Octagon until Saturday 6 March 2010

Tickets: from £9.00

Eves: Mon-Sat @ 7.30

Matinees: Friday 5, Saturday 6, Monday 8, Wednesday 17 and Sat 27 Feb @ 2pm

Box Office: 01204 520661

Feb 5th

Salt by Fiona Peek at Manchester Royal Exchange Studio

By Caroline May

Fiona Peek’s new play Salt was co-winner of the Royal Exchange’s Bruntwood Playwriting Competition in November 2008, and the premiere of this sophisticated social comedy has been eagerly anticipated.  

The action takes place between July 2007 and March 2008 during the course of five dinner parties in Simon and Amy’s beautiful basement kitchen.  Simon’s stable law firm salary and Amy’s chic little gallery job provide them and their children with a lifestyle straight out of a weekend colour supplement.  However their two child-free friends Rachel and Nick (Amy’s old flame from college days) are struggling with debt now that his freelance journalism commissions are drying up and RSI has ended her orchestral career.

Fiona Peek’s debut play, with its skilfully interwoven themes of debt, fertility, work/life balance and food porn, thoroughly nails the late-noughties zeitgeist.  The other unacknowledged but ever-present problem plaguing the middle-classes is excessive recreational drinking - a vice which does more than its fair share to inflame the situation here.

Even if external circumstances didn’t play a part, the chemistry between Amy and Nick and their uninhibited flirting has “slow-motion car crash” written all over it.  Beth Cordingly’s smug Amy is still proprietorial of her ex, constantly reminding Rachel (and Simon) of how long they’ve known each other and therefore how much better she understands him than his wife does.

Simon Chadwick plays her husband as an uptight conformist pretending to be a laid back peacemaker.  He tries to remain aloof from the emotional maelstrom but this diplomacy only masks his diffidence towards the other couple.  You form the impression that if he and Amy were to divorce, she would get Rachel and Nick in the settlement.

Kevin Harvey’s slightly-scouse and immature Nick, one of those nightmare guests who can’t distinguish between a dinner party debate and a stand-up row, is stuck in the laddish culture of the 1990s, and Esther Hall’s brittle Rachel is as highly strung as her own violin when confronted with the dilemma of treating her immature husband as a child or making him face up to his responsibilities.

Ben Stones’ sleek set is like watching the window display in a designer furniture shop coming alive, and Jo Coombs’ fluid and fast-paced production captures the authentic tone of entitlement of the (apparently) affluent professional classes.

My only quibble is that the bombshell dropped in the dying moments is treated with such brevity and underplaying as to be almost subliminal - if this was on DVD you’d frantically rewind it trying to work out exactly what happened.  But even without a freeze-frame facility the first-night audience was highly appreciative of this witty and clever new play.


Salt is on until Saturday 20 February 2010

Prices: £4 (conc)-£9.50

Evenings: Mon-Sat @ 7.30

Matinees: Wed & Sat @ 2.30

Box Office: 0161 833 9833