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JB Shorts 5 at Joshua Brooks Bar, Manchester

Published by: Caroline May on 24th Mar 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May
JB Shorts 5
Wednesday 23 March 2011

The opportunity to see some of the north’s best TV writers stretching their theatrical muscles in a range of short, sharp 10-minute plays is yet again packing out the cellars below Joshua Brooks bar in Manchester.  The cream of local acting and directing talent is also on parade - both on stage and in the audience.  JB Shorts is becoming a kind of biannual smoking concert for Manchester’s thespian community, only the club’s doors are open to everyone.

As usual the programme contains an eclectic mix of styles and subjects: a comedy about a malfunctioning Sky box leads to an emotional crisis and a philosophical discourse on the transience of digital media; the quick buck promised by a clinical trial isn’t as consequence-free as it seems; a man’s desperate trip to a psychiatrist has shades of Blithe Spirit about it.

The most surprising piece is Peter Kerry’s My Poor Fool is Hang’d, which bucks the trend for contemporary realism with a fully rigged-out costume drama.  This sequel to King Lear featuring Kent (Russell Richardson), The Fool (John Catterall) and Cordelia (Annamarie Bayley) shows how indigestible the absolute truth can be, albeit in a rather obscure manner.

For a truly successful combination of comedy and drama you have to turn to Diane Whitley’s Snapshots.  Bill and Sally are the victims of a surprise 40th wedding celebration hosted by their doting granddaughter Zoë and her new beau Greg.  Zoë has compiled a slideshow of photographs which mark the major landmarks in a long and apparently happy marriage.  Using an ingenious device, which director Chris Wright handles with slick assurance, the pictures are brought to life by the two younger actors while the older Bill and Sally comment on the action.  Glenn Cunningham and Tom Tyler-Shaw are utterly convincing as the old and young Bill, a carefree rocker trapped by an unwanted pregnancy who grows into a sympathetic and likeable character.  Ruth Evans and Rachael McGuinness have a harder job to make the shallow Sally into someone the audience can care about, but they do forge believable partnerships with their respective Bills.  This script is one of the best things I’ve seen at JB Shorts and demonstrates how much can be achieved in just 15 minutes on stage.

The equally assured finale is by Dave Simpson, who also employs a flash-back device for We’re All In This Together.  Rookie comedian Jack (James Quinn) has taken to the stage in an open mic comedy night and is lambasting the coalition government with a series of pitiful gags.  Only a performer as assured and funny as James Quinn could make Jack’s deliberately amateurish act come across as hilarious.  Every time the stand-up pillories some new government policy the action flashes back to show the impact it’s had on Jack’s own life and how thoroughly he’s been betrayed.  Peter Slater is also good value as his nerdy friend turned Lib Dem councillor.  We’re All In This Together is very much a topical comedy, and arguably pure agitprop.  But on the day Manchester University announced maximum student tuition fees of £9K, and mere hours after George Osborne’s second budget, the response from the crowd was vocal and enthusiastic. 

Small wonder even successful TV writers whose audiences are usually counted in the millions still get a kick from having their work performed live on stage.

On until Sat 2 April (NOT Sunday 27)
7pm (doors 6.40pm)
(The junction of Charles St and Princess St, at the side of the BBC)
All Tickets : £5 (Pay on the Door)



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