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JB SHORTS 7 - @ Joshua Brooks Bar, Manchester

Published by: Caroline May on 22nd Mar 2012 | View all blogs by Caroline May

JB Shorts
- a showcase of short, sharp new plays by the best writers, actors and directors in the region - is back for its seventh outing, meaning that they’ve now staged an impressive 42 world premieres in the last three years.  Manchester International Festival, eat your heart out.  And in spite of the quality writing and high-profile casting the budget ticket price works out at only £1 per play.

There was a youthful feel to the evening, with the majority of stories reflecting the lives and concerns of  the BBC3 demographic, and familiar faces from Hollyoaks, White Van Man and Lunch Monkeys cropping up beside some old JB Shorts favourites. 

“Pop” by Lindsay Williams is a bitter-sweet vignette about a group of school friends waking in a muddy field after the last music festival of the summer.  Their struggle to pack away the pop-up tent is symbolic of their attitudes towards the adult world, albeit with more slapstick.  “Last Night” by Bill Taylor is like a twenty-first century take on The Browning Version, with a teacher and her young pupil getting to know each other better in somewhat queasy circumstances.  And Chris Thompson’s locker-room set “Match of the Day” shows a football team’s new female physio rubbing her injured client up the wrong way.

All the above are single scenes, but Peter Kerry’s “Quickfire” slips back and forth in time between the stand-up routine of successful arena-touring comic Colin Townsend (Alex Woodhall) and the strange encounter he has at an all-night garage.  A smart and cynical young man in jeans, jacket and t-shirt, with the de rigueur head-mike, Colin banters with the audience before trying out some new, edgier material about how he struggles to connect with the everyday folk who make up his fan base while driving around in a Porsche that they have ultimately paid for.  It’s difficult to fake a comedy club vibe in the midst of a drama, but the flash-backs to the garage are hilarious, with a great twist.

Equally funny is “The Confession” by Diane Whitely and Dave Simpson.  Russell Richardson plays Patrick, a good Catholic family man, who is so enamoured of his ability to procreate with his wife that he decides to spread the love, and becomes a freelance sperm donor. As Patrick confesses to a silent, unseen priest we flash back to scenes from his complicated domestic arrangements.  There is excellent support from Diane Whitely as the assorted women in his life, and clever use of the musical soundtrack.

Pick of the evening for me though was the surreal “Sit. Stay. Roll over.” by Jane McNulty.  John Henshall is Jeff, an ordinary man’s-best-friend type of dog, who finds himself locked in a strange room with leather-and-studs pit bull Tyson and preening lapdog Peaches.  Jean-Paul Sartre must be spinning in his grave for not realising that Huis Clos’ natural setting was an animal shelter: “Dog Centre Plus”.  Director James Blakey pitches the characters as recognisable human types displaying classic canine behaviour, while Jane McNulty’s marvellous script is funny, poignant and thought provoking.

On until Sat 31 March (NOT Sunday 16)
7pm (doors 6.40pm)
(The junction of Charles St and Princess St, at the side of the BBC)
All Tickets : £6 (Pay on the Door)



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