JB Shorts 8

Ian Kershaw, Trevor Suthers, Carole Solazzo, Christy Horrocks, Dave Simpson, Diane Whitley, Lindsay Williams and James Quinn
Reallife Theatre Company
Joshua Brooks, Manchester
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The very successful JB Shorts season is now on its eighth season, offering six new 15-minute plays by experienced TV writers for just £6 in the cramped basement of Joshua Brooks in Manchester.

The evening opens with A Christmas Carol, a title that neatly encompasses the time of year and the name of the lead character, written by Ian Kershaw who wrote Oldham Coliseum's acclaimed outdoor theatre debut Star-Cross'd earlier this year and directed by Miranda Parker.

Carol brings much-younger Waz home—for some reason she is convinced he is Irish—who, after a bit of a vomitting moment that produced a great reaction from the audience, reveals that it was his mum's funeral that day. Jeni Howarth Williams portrays well the brash, coarse Carol and Oliver Wilson is detached as Waz.

There is the old cliché of the character portrayed as not-too-bright suddenly spouting poetry that she remembers from school—this popped up in a few 24:7 plays this year—but there are plenty of laughs in here and one or two touching moments, and it certainly makes an impression as an opener.

Next up is No Comment by JB regular Trevor Suthers, directed by Alice Bartlett. The setting appears to be a police interrogation where the accused, played with suitable arrogance and smugness by Peter Ash, is interrogated about the disappearance of a little girl Sophie (perhaps a little near the knuckle bearing in mind current events) but his only answer to any question, even when asked his name, is the title of the play.

William Travis as Quinn and the always-excellent Colin Connor as Kerry—"the funny one"—play the cop double act to try to get him to speak, but when the interrogation takes some unusual turns and solicitor Williams (Susan McCardle) fails to intervene, the prisoner starts to suspect something is not right.

While there is a bit of a lull later on, generally this piece is funny and shocking in equal measure with perfect pace and extremely good performances all round and is the strongest piece of the night.

Taking us into the interval with a prayer is Seeds, written by Carole Solazzo from a story by Christy Horrocks and directed by Oldham Coliseum's artistic director Kevin Shaw. Steve Mitchell is Brendan, a seminarian who is to be ordained as a priest the next day. Mickey, in a lively performance by Alex Moran, can't understand the celibacy thing and bets him that if a girl offered herself to him, he wouldn't be able to turn her down.

Mickey takes Brendan to a night club and hooks him up with pretty Natalie (Kimberley Hart-Simpson), and there is obviously a mutual attraction. Writer Solazzo cleverly layers on the reasons for Brendan not to reject her apart from libido, so how can he escape the situation to follow his vocation without hurting anyone?

The basic premise is strong if not hugely original but it struggles to squeeze into the fifteen-minute format, resulting in some confusing jumps between short scenes and multi-role playing. This could be an interesting 40-minute TV drama where the pace could be relaxed enough for the drama to unfold more naturally.

After the interval, Dave Simpson's and Diane Whitley's Maddie, directed by Feelgood Theatre's artistic director Caroline Clegg, puts the title character, a famous older pop singer in the mould of Lulu, in front of a press conference after she has been released without charge following her arrest for the kidnap and torture of her daughter's ex-boyfriend.

We flash back to when Mercedes (Emily Fleeshman) brings new boyfriend Ian (Chris Brett) back to meet her mother (Judy Holt) but hasn't told him she is the famous Maddie. It turns out he is a lifelong fan, and questions start to arise about his motives for going out with Mercedes and, later, his sanity.

Although the old standby of a box of sex toys is used to get laughs—sometimes I think writers only put this in to embarrass the props buyer—there is an interesting plot and some decent comedy in this script, but it could do with polishing up a lot as it doesn't feel like a final draft.

Lindsay Williams seems to like to drop her characters into extreme situations to see how they cope—her Aftershock, a highlight of JB Shorts 6, buried two people, a politician and a cleaner, in a collapsed building—and this time in The Bombmaker Adam Quayle directs her script that begins when a scientist (Amir Rahimzadeh) discovers an agent (Lucas Smith) planting a bomb to kill him.

There is an interesting switch of expectations as the person with the Middle Eastern accent is the victim and the one with the explosive rucksack has an English public school accent. It seems that the scientist works on Iran's nuclear programme but disassociates himself from what the government may be planning to do with his discoveries, whereas the agent can also explain away his murderous actions as being for the greater good.

A powerful opening leads to some initially fascinating arguments, but it runs out of steam halfway through and the ending is disappointingly weak. However there is a very strong performance from Rahimzadeh.

James Quinn once again closes the evening as both writer and lead actor in Red, directed by Monkeywood Theatre co-artistic director Martin Gibbons.

He plays Graham, football obsessed but heavily involved with FC United, an amateur football team set up in 2005 by Manchester United fans protesting about having their club taken over by American businessman Malcolm Glazer. His wife Claire (Penny McDonald), however, is training to be a caterer and is after the contract at Old Trafford for the high-class food.

The setting is November 2010 when FC United played its first ever FA Cup first round match against Rochdale, but Graham has lost his ticket and has to subscribe to ESPN to watch it on TV. Son Ryan—a very nice performances form Connor Ryan—watches both of them with wry amusement, and Daniel Jillings and Sinead Moynihan personify Manchester United and FC United respectively, talking up their own side against the other in a series of monologues.

There are some great one-liners here—it's amazing how many gags you can get out of "shaved fennel"—but unless references such as Newton Heath and Busby Babes strike a chord—emotional as well as intellectual—with you then a lot of this piece will not be of great interest and may even be unintelligible.

A mixed bag as always, but something for everyone, great value and you're back in the bar before 9 o'clock. As the current cliché goes, what's not to like?

David Chadderton