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Zack by Harold Brighouse at Manchester Royal Exchange

Published by: Caroline May on 22nd Dec 2010 | View all blogs by Caroline May


The Royal Exchange is usually a pantomime-free zone come Christmas time - but they’ve broken the mould this year with a Lancashire-set “Cinderella Circa 1910” by Harold “Hobson’s Choice” Brighouse.  And in the best gender role reversal tradition of panto, Cinderella is played by a boy.

 Zack is a distinctly unheroic hero - a gormless innocent with a big heart whose lack of social airs make him an embarrassment to his aspiring petit-bourgeois family.  After a lifetime of emotional neglect and constant criticism inflicted by his battleaxe mother, Mrs Munning, and miserly brother, Paul, they’ve even sacked him from his job in the family catering firm because his only suit (a hand-me-down from his dead dad) has worn to rags.

 Enter Zack’s Fairy Godmother-cum-Prince(ss) Charming, in the form of beautiful and rich cousin Virginia, who immediately sees what’s going on - until the artful Paul, scheming mother, and some sexual misadventures on Zack’s part convince her otherwise.

 If you’re familiar with the film career of George Formby then you’ll immediately be at home with this style of gentle northern comedy, where the unlikely protagonist wins out despite nothing to recommend him but a mixture of good humour and pathos.  Zack is played by local comedian Justin Moorhouse - for those unfamiliar with his work, he’s the guy you’d ring if you couldn’t get Johnny Vegas - and he’s certainly “got a gift for jollification”, as well as eliciting several choruses of “ahhh” from the audience when his fortunes fall.

 Pearce Quigley’s Eeyore-ish Paul is as drippy as his lank moustache (“there isn’t a woman on earth worth buying roses for at sixpence a bloom”), while Polly Hemingway as their mother nicely catches the sharp-tongued quality of the aspiring lower-middle-class (“your ways would make a cat laugh”).

 Greg Hersov’s production finds the anarchic nature of “Lancy” humour in the comparatively small roles of dirt poor Martha Wrigley (played with all the spirit of an Eliza Doolittle by Samantha Power) and the bogus servant Sally Teale (rendered with an hilarious lack of deference by Michelle Tate).

 Although Hobson’s Choice is Harold Brighouse’s greatest hit and a deservedly iconic play, Zack is also an enjoyable example of the work of the Manchester School of Playwrights - and even the panto-averse won’t object to its fairytale happy ending.

  Zack is on until Saturday 22 January 2011

Prices: £9-£30

Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30 (not 24 Dec); Sats @ 8pm

Matinees: Weds @ 2.30pm (also Tues 21 & Fri 24 Dec); Sats @ 4pm (& Mon 27 Dec)

Box Office: 0161 833 9833



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