Share |

JB Shorts 4 at Joshua Brooks Bar, Manchester

Published by: Caroline May on 4th Nov 2010 | View all blogs by Caroline May

Fringe fixture JB Shorts is back for another run at Joshua Brooks bar in Manchester.  This is the chance to catch the region’s finest TV writers working not merely in high definition (so passé) but in 3D no less - and what’s more being performed live. 

As usual this challenge has attracted directors and actors of the highest calibre, and the tiny cellar space means the whole evening is shot in thrillingly extreme close-up.

The opening pieces (Touched by Bill Taylor and Waiting for Gaga by Lindsay Williams) about odd relationships and unusual situations led to a montage of bizarre images: Chris Hannon (Lunch Monkeys) rowing a table-top boat; Arthur Bostrom (’Allo ’Allo!) wearing furry pink rabbit ears; and Graham Galloway in the thankless role of a corpse yet still stealing the scene with one baleful glare.

However it was Christopher Reason’s A Selfish Boy, sensitively directed by Mary Cunningham and beautifully played by James Quinn and Joan Kempson, which effortlessly crowned the first half of the show.  James Quinn takes a dual role as the barbed narrator and resentful son of a “nutty mum” who, like a latter-day Victorian lady invalid, is permanently ensconced on her fainting couch (“she’s been in bed since forever”).  As we follow Mum’s endless search for a cure (pills, ECT, you name it), the jarring and slightly confusing time-shifts add to the sense of mystery, although the killer line comes when her Harley Street psychiatrist addresses her as “Mrs Reason” and you realise with a frisson of horror that you’re not watching fiction but the writer’s own life story. 

This really was fine work, which was followed by another two-hander of equal dramatic tension (though leavened with a great deal more humour).  Going to Extremes, written by Lisa Holdsworth and directed by Trevor MacFarlane, could potentially have been nothing more than a worthy piece of Theatre In Education - white working-class cockney Lee (Joe Ransom) has come up north on an English Defence League rally, where he encounters Leeds-born Muslim Amir (Sushil Chudasama).  The inevitable clash is diffused when they recognise each other as friends and work colleagues from way back.  Lisa Holdsworth’s play examines the different meanings of racism, tribalism and discrimination in today’s society, but its warmth and heart come from her characters, a pair of genuinely nice young men made real and loveable by charming and engaging performers who get the audience rooting for a happy ending.

Next up, Octagon artist director emeritus Mark Babych turns his hand to James Quinn’s comedy pastiche Watching the Detectives.  ITV’s latest drama commissioner (Gemma North) is proposing a clear-out of the cosy Sunday night schedule, and has a quartet of edgy new detective series in the frame - when she’s found dead at her desk by Soames the Butler (Arthur Bostrom, quite supercilious enough to have stepped out of that other ITV weekend favourite, Downton Abbey).  The crime is examined by - who else? - the four short-listed detectives: posh tweed-clad spinster Miss Winter (Annamarie Bayley); Scottish maverick DI Rankin (Ryan Pope); pioneering genre-busting Page-3-model-stroke-investigator Tanya Styles (Rachael McGuinness); and Peter Slater as the seedy bent northern copper George Headingley (“I don’t mean queer - proper bent.”)  The script is funny and clever, and the performances delightfully over-the-top - as someone says, “Sunday nights will never be the same”.

Finally, Dave Simpson’s Cock-Tales is The Vagina Monologues for the Y-chromosome-toting section of the audience, a celebration of all things willy.  Like its female counterpart it opens with a woman on a bar stool addressing the audience, and also features the strings of fun facts, rudery, myth challenging, and touching true stories (here of prostate cancer) which made Eve Ensler’s formula so appealing.  But think how much more successful the original might have been with two giant dancing dicks on stage.  Joe Ransom, Liam Tims, Murray Taylor and Susan McCardle bring tears to the eyes in so many different ways.

So another ratings success for this popular re-commission - series 4 is JB Shorts at the top of its form.

Till Saturday 13 November (not Sunday 7th) @ 7pm

Tickets £5 on door


Joshua Brooks

106 Princess Street

Lancashire M1 6NG



Please login or sign up to post on this network.
Click here to sign up now.