JB Shorts 3
Joshua Brooks Pub, Manchester
JB Shorts 3 is the third in an ongoing series of short plays which take place in the Joshua Brooks pub in central Manchester. It attracts top local actors and writers, many of whom have cut their writing teeth in television and, in particular, in soap operas. This batch of six is made up of comedies of which some have a more dramatic premise but all of which evoked much laughter from the packed cellar bar which has been transformed into a tiny playing area. There is minimal staging but adroit use of appropriate props.
Backlash is by James Quinn who is perhaps better known to Manchester theatregoers as an actor. This piece is an unctious and smarmy satire on political correctness and all the right-on concerns which are manipulated by the media. The performers managed the right balance between the self-importance and apparent sincerity of the party political broadcast. The writing skilfully punctured some modern sacred cows such as the virtue of the small shopkeeper over the vice of the supermarket and environmental concerns.
Quixotry comes from Lindsay Williams who is a writer on Emmerdale. This piece is set in a scrabble competition at the Rochdale and Littleborough Scrabble Society. The match is between a long standing aggressive male champion and a young Asian woman who puts up a strong challenge. There are some good bits of repartee between them and the tension is cleverly evoked between the male and the female referee with whom it seems he has been in a relationship for some time. The play is about obsession and competitiveness.
I'm Mad Me by Andrew Kirk explores the world of reality TV and one young couple where the woman is auditioning for Big Brother and her male partner has qualms about this. There is a strong yet funny depiction of the tensions in a relationship where one fears they are going to lose the other through some uncontrollable success. This featured Vicky Binns from Coronation Street whose character had to appear wearing an absurd bunny girl costume: Rabbit ears, fishnet stockings and a pink feather boa all light years away from her character on the Corrie cobbles.
The second group of three after the interval began with S.H.A.G.G by Diane Whitley. This had a delicious performance from all three of the cast involved. It invited the audience to witness a meeting of the Sex Addicts Help and Guidance Group, aka S.H.A.G.G. Chris Jack seductively asked for the stories of the other characters as well as at one point inviting a real member of the audience onto the stage to much amusement. Marvyn Dickinson and Nicola Jayne Ingram showed rounded characters although Ingram's had clearly been influenced by the style of Victoria Wood. The audience lapped up the ribald language and the happy ending.
Shakespeare's Monkeys is by Trevor Suthers, one of the originators of the JB Shorts series. This took as its premise the idea that if an infinite number of monkeys were placed in front of an infinite number of PCs they would produce the works of Shakespeare. We see an inspector visiting a strange institute where this experiment is actually taking place. Liam Tims' boffin had clear overtones of David Tennant's Dr Who and Antony Bessick's Mr Monks was a hilarious piece of physical theatre. He really convinced this reviewer that he was an ape able to talk. His characterisation did perhaps overshadow those of his fellow actors but it was certainly the performance of the evening.
Truncheons and Blackberries by Peter Kerry looked at the issue of arming the police. It was a farce where what Hitchcock would have called the McGuffin or motivating factor was that there was a gun in the police station which had to be concealed at all costs from the senior woman Deputy Chief Constable and a subsequent woman journalist. The two male constables tried in various rather silly physical ways to conceal and then dispose of the gun. Needless to say it surfaces at the crucial moment and disaster strikes. This made some good points about guns in the community and also the police force along the way, as well as offering some good belly laughs.
It is perhaps not the most comfortable of venues but all the plays connected with the audience and got the all important laughs. This reviewer's favourite was I'm Mad Me as, despite the absurdity of the audition attempt, the relationship of the man and woman was the most convincing. It had the feeling that there could be more to be said about them and there was a good twist in the tale. It was however a pity that the whole cast did nor reappear for a final curtain call at the end of the evening.
Plans are already afoot for the next in the series and perhaps there will be even more drama amongst the comedies on that occasion.
Reviewer: Andrew Edwards