Reviewer: Katherine Kirwin
JB Shorts is something of an institution in Manchester providing audiences with six 15-minute plays by established television writers featuring experienced stage and television actors. This fringe institution provides a great reminder of the challenges in writing a succinct piece of theatre; introducing the style and setting, creating characters of substance and interest, all within a solid structure.
Firstly ‘Baaji on the Beat’ written by Anjum Malik was a confusing comedy about training police officers learning how to handle shoplifters when a hopeless thief stumbles into them. This was one of the weakest pieces of the night with too many ideas and not enough reason for us to be interested in them.
‘Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue’ was the strongest piece of the night, written by Sarah Bagshaw. Liz Carney as Stella and Samantha Power as Tania, play sisters captured in the moments before Tania’s wedding in an undisclosed location. This was a black comedy and Bagshaw creates great moments of suspense in her script as the audience are given hints that all is not right, absent family members imply a lack of support for this new union and when the twist is revealed it is unexpected and clever. However, I do feel there were times when this script could have left things even more unsaid, we picked up on the hints and atmosphere without it being spelt out.
‘#Are We Cool? written by James Quinn took a satirical look at television arts discussion shows and ramped up the stereotypical commentators featured on them. Their show is disrupted by the arrival of the author Mick, played by Mark Sheals, who is more concerned with watching the darts. This play was well-observed and witty but was essentially a scripted comedy sketch. However, it did lead to the best line of the night “Darts is a ghetto activity for the dispossessed”.
‘Blind Date’ written by Dave Simpson was a delightful portrayal of internet dating, exaggerating the online profile only to have to falsify their appearances for the first date. Susan Mcardle and Will Travis give charming, sympathetic performances and create great moments of physical comedy. The tragi-comic nature of the characters was evident throughout the piece but the ending felt sadly forced to be excessively downbeat.
‘Zeros and Ones’ written by Peter Kerry looked at a persistent theme of disconnect from the world, within the family unit, because of using technology; mobiles, tablets, laptops, televisions. An engaging piece with a solid performance from Garry Houghton as a dad overwhelmed by technology. However, Zeros &Ones didn’t bring anything new to the table about the concept of disconnection/connection.
Finally ‘The Script’ by Trevor Suthers looked at a writer being praised for the quality of her script, only to have it torn to pieces by the actor, writer and producer. Although amusing, with exaggerated stereotypes played by James Quinn, Mark Rowlands and Mellissa Sinden, it was difficult to care about any of the characters or the script in question, and the whole thing became a big in-joke for the theatrical audience.
Overall, JB Shorts provides a great evenings entertainment for a very cheap price, with a chance to see a variety of work performed by some well-known faces and some new talent.