JB Shorts 15
Diane Whitley, Lisa Houldsworth, Peter Kerry, Paul Coates, Trevor Suthers, Paul Mason
Realife Theatre Company
Joshua Brooks, Manchester
Now on the fifteenth of its acclaimed, biannual new writing showcases, JB Shorts has stuck to its format of six short plays in an evening written by experienced TV scriptwriters and performed by a mixture of local fringe actors and a few faces off the telly in a cramped pub cellar.
However the 15-minute slot seems to have been relaxed somewhat: this performance came down at ten past nine from a 7 o'clock start, by which time you could be on your second pint in the pub upstairs after many past JBs. This flexibility is not necessarily to the plays' advantage.
Number 15 opens with Diane Whitley's The Intruder, directed by Alice Bartlett, which opens with Judith (Melissa Sinden) apparently coshing a burglar (Joe Wandera). But does Judith have early-onset Alzheimer's so she has forgotten who Samuel is, or is this a condition affecting Joan (Joan Kempson) so that she thinks this intruder is someone from their past?
There is actually a lovely story at the heart of this play, but it is padded out at times with some contrived dialogue. Pared back to its essentials, it would work well.
In Lisa Holdsworth's A Different Time, directed by Rebecca Taylor, old friends Linda and Amanda, played with perfect comic timing by Jill Myers and Joyce Branagh, reminisce in a way that puts a thin, friendly veneer onto bitchy digs at one another. However their most shocking gossip is reserved for Samantha, who has yet to appear.
Samantha is given such a build-up that it makes it impossible for Tigga Goulding to quite live up to expectations, but soon after her arrival the play turns much darker and more thoughtful. There are some rough transitions and a sudden end, but this is a polished performance of an interesting script.
Peter Kerry's Humble, directed by Chris Honer, closes the first half with a knockabout office comedy punctuated by dramatic chords and witty asides which also builds up the anticipation for the arrival of a character. In this case, office manager Susan (Rachel Priest) breaks the news to Karin (Clare Cameron) and Steve (Ethan Holmes) that Frank has pulled out of the meeting and will be replaced by... Jeremy.
Will Travis as the dreaded Jeremy channels the character's namesake from a popular TV motoring show, arrogantly dominating the meeting and boring them with tales of how things were done in the '80s. It's a funny idea, but is really an extended sketch which would be more effective at half its length.
Another silly comedy after the break, False Prophet written by Paul Coates and directed by Jack Lord, presents an alternative Easter story that is almost certainly blasphemous, which would be fine if it were funnier.
Thomas Vernal is a Jesus who, following the Last Supper, finds himself in a position of having to win back his followers Mary (Shireen Ashton), Judas (Leon Ward) and Peter (Rob Ward) from a rival prophet, Samuel, who has also promised to rise from the dead.
Soap star Sue Jenkins directs Build A Bonfire by Trevor Suthers, based on an interesting debate about the relationship between art and the character of the artist. Marion (Kerry Wilison Parry) is tasked with a legal judgment about whether certain artworks created by a convicted paedophile should be destroyed.
Her friend Joanne (Ann Brown) is an artist who is doubtful that any art should be destroyed, whereas her husband Bill (Martin Wenner) equates the art with the crimes of the man. It's an interesting idea, but, in this short format, the characters become mere mouthpieces for contrasting opinions and the hints at parallels with Marion's family and the twists later, particularly the arrival of the Inspector (Darren Maw), are not sufficiently justified.
The finale is the political satire Party Animals, written by Paul Mason and James Quinn, the latter also directing. Sally Carman gives a barnstorming performance as middle-class New Labourite Fedora who, on the night of Labour's last election defeat, sees this as a chance to move the Labour Party back where it belongs, "the centre".
Oddly, she collapses and slips into a coma, waking in time for the announcement of just who has replaced "the wrong Milliband" as Labour leader. This is a funny, well-observed script that perhaps could also benefit from trimming, but in the hands of performers like Carman along with Nathan Morris as her assistant Richard and Zoe Iqbal as intensive care nurse Aisha it goes down a storm—and got a big cheer from the Corbyn fans in the audience on press night.
So another interesting mix of styles and subjects, which is what makes JB always worth checking out.
Reviewer: David Chadderton