Writers: Peter Kerry &James Quinn, Jane McNulty, Trevor Suthers, David Isaac, Martin Jameson, Carôle Solazzo
Directors: Malcolm Raeburn, Paul Blinkhorn, Matthew Bloxham, Justine Potter, Trevor MacFarlane, Joyce Branagh
Reviewer: Stephen M Hornby
JB Shorts is always a solid offering, drawing as it does from an invited set of television and radio writers. There are six 15 minute plays, all by different writers, with their own casts and directors. So, if one piece is not to your liking, it won’t be too long before something different comes along. And there is plenty in JB Shorts 12 to like.
There are two stand-out plays and many more great performances and enjoyable moments. A Hairline Crack by Jane McNulty is the best drama of the night. It presents the relationship between two women, one trapped on the 15th floor of a tower block by her immobility and the broken lift, and the other trying to ameliorate the worst of their condition by selling off the best bits of china that they have hoarded in a failed attempt to set up an on-line business. The writing is wonderfully compact delivering a poignant and complex piece in just 15 minutes stage time, helped by some excellent performances. Cathy Breeze as Button is wonderful, creating a character who is carping, cruel and vindictive, but also grounded, realistic and a survivor. You can feel the weight of Tigga Goulding’s Ronnie’s despair as her dreams are smashed both metaphorically and literally before her eyes. Director Paul Blinkhorn manages to expose the whole of this couple’s relationship and the painful and abusive dynamics it is based on with heart-breaking skill.
Prostrate is the best comedy. The central conceit, that a man’s cancerous tumour has a character that only he can see and hear, and the situation, a man is reunited with a woman he last saw in 1987 when something sexual happened between them, make for great farcical comedy. But this comedy has a sharp edge, with the threat of impotence and mortality ever present. This kind of high risk black comedy could easily upset or offend, but between Jameson’s writing and Trevor MacFarlane’s accomplished directing, the tone is spot on. Joe Osborne as Tony and Alison Darling as Karen make for a completely convincing couple, awkwardly lustful and reminiscent for an experience that had different meanings for each of them. But the standout performance is Nathan Morris’ as the hyper-energetic, sexually rampant animal that is Gove, Tony’s talking tumour. The complex fight sequence between the two of them is deftly executed and totally convincing, and the precision and pace of all the actors in every scene helps means the farcical elements work brilliantly. Prostrate is an edgy, funny and very empowering comedy.
Some of the pieces didn’t work quite so well. Special Needs examines a relationship breakdown in the context of caring for a daughter with severe disabilities, and while the issues this creates for parenting are interesting, the familiar central story of a man leaving his wife for a younger woman is mundanely written and the performances are mostly one note. Good Vibrations is also rather well-worn feminist ground, taking us on a time travel through men’s control of women’s sexuality with stock characters and a denouement that doesn’t quite convince. Richard Oldham, though, is impressive, playing five distinct male rôles with really strong characterisation for each.
There is much else to enjoy. Mr Normal has the premise of a suburban family coping in a shelter from a zombie apocalypse, and has many funny moments. Eric Potts as Tim possesses sensational comic timing and lifts many of the lines with his deadpan delivery and studied turn of phrase. Paradise Island is a satirical adult pantomime with solid gags, some bravo performances and a wonderful line in Teddy bear puppetry.
JB Short 12 keeps up the standard of its eleven predecessors. It is a great night of new writing, with some excellent dramatic performances and a good variety of humour.
Runs until Saturday 18th October