Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Word:Play - Division

Various writers
Box of Tricks, in association with Bolton Octagon and Bike Shed Theatre
The Continental, Preston

Word:Play 4 - scene from an earlier Word:Play production
Helen Carter and David Judge in The Globe in the Attic Credit: Dion Leaver
Matthew Ganley and Rachel Austin in This Is Only a Test Credit: Dion Leaver

Several familiar faces from Manchester's rich fringe theatre scene inhabit a dozen or more characters thrown up in this mini national tour of new work.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, and nothing to do with audience attention span, but this sort of bite-sized theatre also seems to be all the rage right now.

Certainly six for the price of one is a bargain by anyone’s standards, what with Word:Play touring, and the ninth season of JB Shorts opening in Manchester next week.

The former has been created by the city’s innovative Box of Tricks theatre company, in association with Bolton Octagon and Bike Shed Theatre. It invites six playwrights to devise a 15- to 20-minute work around a single word—in this instance, Division.

This time around it also introduces a little regional twist, with three authors from the south west and three from the north west. If nothing else it produces a rich diversity of dialects from the four players tasked with bringing the work to life.

Nights with Dolly Henderson, by Bea Roberts, alights on two women for whom the sexual liberation of 60s Torquay has got slightly ahead of itself. A voice off reminds us that a woman’s place, back then, was best saved for beauty parades, or the home.

The Globe in the Attic, by Becky Prestwich, is a play very much of the now, with worldwide communication unable to bridge the gulf between a brother and sister’s distinct loyalties. This Is Only a Test, by Tom Wainwright, is a riotous episode wrapped around a New Age solution to getting your driving licence.

Exodus, by Natalie McGrath, is a moving one-woman monologue, a quite elegiac poem to a lost walking companion. Plastic Figurines, by Ella Greenhill, features another brother and sister, this time coping with his particularly challenging behaviour.

The Bears, by Luke Barnes, imagines the Goldilocks adventure played out on TV’s Shameless estate, and maybe just over-extends the joke?

But while a disappointingly small audience here might well choose their own favourite they would all agree on the excellence of the writing throughout, the breadth of original characters on display, and the quite terrific grasp on them all from Rachel Austin, Helen Carter, Matthew Ganley and David Judge. Acting of this quality is not always guaranteed from productions with far greater budgets—and much higher ticket prices.

First-class theatre at economy rates.

Seen here at the Continental, Preston, then touring.

Reviewer: David Upton