Writers: Lindsay Williams, Trevor Suthers, James Quinn, Louis Ashton-Butler, Peter Kerry, Diane Whitley, Dave Simpson.
Directors: Miranda Parker, Trevor McFarlane, Alice Bartlett, Simon Naylor, Chantell Walker, Roger Haines,
Reviewer: Sam Lowe
It’s the first time, this reviewer has attended the well-known JB Shorts nights. Six more 15 minutes plays are presented to the audience written by top TV writers. The buzz surrounding this event is electric. After 19 successful sell-out seasons totalling up to 100 world premieres, 2018 Manchester Theatre Awards winner, Reallife Theatre Company return with tonight’s proceedings.
Although, it can be said that what we are watching is also “larger than life”. There is a possibility of attending an evening of plays like this and watching what has been done before, you don’t get that impression with JB Shorts. The stories, characters, and scenarios vary between plays and attract special attention for being positively unusual and unexpected.
Play one is Best Behaviour. It’s 1961 and Mary Fullaway (Julie Edwards) a Manchester landlady takes in a young footballer from Belfast, George Best (Duncan Butcher). She has no idea what she’s getting herself into. Edward’s Northern, husky, and warm voice marries up well with her characterisation of Mary. However, Butcher’s portrayal of a laddish and irresponsible George Best doesn’t come across. It’s his smile that makes him appear sweeter than he is meant to be. The Northern sayings like: “Pinning out me smalls”, “Bloody Nora”, and “You’ve been had”, immediately transport you back to that time and place.
Transitions are tight between shows with a musical interlude where one song fades into the next. The second play is Madame Mantis. An American, pervy media mogul, Monsieur Steinberg (Stephen Marzella) is under scrutiny for allegations of sexual misconduct. Seeking advice from his lawyer, the eccentric and femme fatale, Madame Mantis (Theone Rashleigh) he is about to receive the shock of his life. Madame Manti’s “prey mantis” like character creates a situation where the intimidator becomes intimidated. Steinberg is lured into a false sense of security and manipulated into confessing his wrongdoings. Essentially, he gets a taste of his own medicine. It’s a clever idea but it doesn’t quite become a success. Firstly, one audience member thinks there is a slight element of mocking those who identify as a particular gender or sexuality. That’s a fair point. Secondly, a topical and serious subject perhaps wasn’t taken seriously enough: there were a lot of laughs from the audience. Should we laugh at this?
I’ve Tried It Once… Again, is the third play. Back at JB Shorts 19 the audience saw Audrey’s (Victoria Scowcraft) standpoint on her bittersweet marriage to Godfrey (Shaun Hennessy). Now we see things from Godfrey’s point of view. Questions are answered and revelations don’t quite get revealed in this amalgamation of drama and comedy. Scowcraft effortlessly switches from role to role with great comedy timing. Godfrey is played with a loveable naievty and joyfulness. Humour comes in the awkward “birds and the bees” conversation Godfrey has with his religious mother. Or when he finally tells his mum (in his dream) to leave him alone in a profanity-filled, ferocious rant.
After an interval, What’s The Good? ArmisticeDay has arrived with a huge sigh of relief. World War One poet Woodbine Willy (Jake Ferretti) forms a meaningful friendship with a war-shaken soldier called George (Marcus Christopherson). Hannah (Helen O’ Hara) George’s wife, reflects on their life together. Apparently, George was the last soldier to be killed in WW1. Ferretti’s interpretation of the poet is brooding and disturbed. Even before opening his mouth, you intuitively sense he has witnessed things he never wants to see again. Christopherson stands out as George, you experience his youthful and loving character when he is with his wife, and his troubled and tortured mind when asked about the war. Naylor’s direction is spot on: there is a lovely change in energy when the solidiers run through the auditorium when Armistice Day is announced. A candle flame extinguishes at just the right moment. The play fluctuates in intensity. The poignant silence at the end, just wonderful.
The last two plays are pure escapism and laugh out loud entertainment. They are Equivalent2 and Corruption. One, a comic farce about an art gallery heist, the other a mini-comic opera about two servants and two reporters waiting for a murder – profiting from tragic stories. Writing about the play, James Quinn’s gormless face is delightful. Arguments escalate to the point of hilarious absurdity. Gina (Katy Oliver) makes a fantastic babbling assistant. In the mini-opera, the ensemble all have strong singing voices and bring the story to life. There is bizzare and playful humour with effective melodramic moments. A pleasure to watch.
After digesting this theatrical buffet of shows, all that’s left is this clump of set pieces and props each from every story. A reminder of the different worlds, times, and places we have visited. This evening of short plays is highly recommended for audiences that want to experience something just that little bit different from the rest.
Runs until: 1st December 2018 | Image: Contributed