Point of Departure

John Topliff
Pulse Mcr
Three Minute Theatre, Manchester

Nestling in the arcade of Affleck’s Palace on Oldham Street, Manchester, Three Minute Theatre is a venue worthy of support. With its intimate, charmingly ramshackle auditorium, a tiny but welcoming bar and a warm, inclusive atmosphere, this is a brave theatre business supporting new and developing work across the Manchester fringe scene.

Point of Departure is an in-house production, written by John Topliff and directed by his co-proprietor Gina Frost. It is very much a work in progress (the audience is invited to stay behind for a Q&A session after the show, aimed at helping the development of the piece).

It is Christmas in the small African republic of Khoto and, as the saying goes, the ‘natives are getting restless’. Irish entertainer, Jimmy Rourke (Aiden J. Harvey) stumbles into the departure lounge of the airport, clearly in fear of pursuit and in desperate need of a flight out. Mistaking the figure behind the desk for a local official, he first patronises then alienates the man, who turns out to be Staff Sergeant Taylor (Aj Akande). Unfortunately for Rourke, Sergeant Taylor is currently in command of this airport. As the friction between the two men increases, it is left to Corporal Collins (Nik Grundison) to use her good sense to try and build bridges.

Meanwhile, Private Billy Singh (the voice of Callum Prewer) gives regular radio reports from the observation tower, as angry locals edge ever nearer. Will the approaching military plane arrive in time to whisk the four of them to safety?

The writer hasn’t quite found his story, yet. The flashbacks, (largely told through monologue), whilst containing some powerful moments, distract from the dramatic potential of the relationship between the two soldiers into which the self-centred but occasionally charming entertainer has intruded. The real question here is not really ‘will they get away in time?’ but ‘will Taylor finally prove himself as a soldier, a lover, a man?’

Special effects are impressive for such a small venue (you really feel the aircraft pass by overhead). There is a brilliant “Christmassy” moment at the climax, capturing the humiliating depths to which humans can stoop when courage fails them, but this is undercut by an unnecessary “frightener” at the finale.

There are a couple of off-colour moments (if representatives from the German or Japanese embassies were to catch the show, there could well be an international incident). Let’s just allow that these are in character for an entertainer like Jimmy Rourke. Gina Frost could take a firmer hand in reigning in Aiden J. Harvey’s energetic excesses. There are moments when he retains control of his stage presence in which he shows real quality as an actor.

Get along and support the Three Minute Theatre some time. It’s a little gem.

Reviewer: Martin Thomasson