Writers: Sarah McDonald Hughes, Trevor Suthers, Dave Simpson, Justin Moorhouse, James Quinn, Peter Kerry and Lindsay Williams
Directors: Martin Gibbons, Sue Jenkins, Alex Toyle, Rupert Hill, Aileen Quinn, Joyce Branagh
Reviewer: Katherine Kirwin
JBShorts has become a biannual fixture on the Manchester theatre scene and attracts large crowds every night to watch the selection of six 15-minute plays created by TV writers and local directors. The short form play allows the writers freedom to experiment with form, style, condensed storylines or give a glimpse of a potentially longer play. All of which guarantees the audience an evening of variety and entertainment, and this time in its new venue of 53Two with great atmosphere and sightlines.
The evening is kicked off by a tight two-hander, Magaluf, by Sarah McDonald Hughes, directed by Martin Gibbons. Amy Lythgoe and Hollie-Jay Bowes has a tricky task of direct address, stylised physicality and potentially clichéd material of ‘girls on tour’. However, this show avoids the pitfalls and created an engaging friendship dynamic with bold characterisation, which turns from hilarious to unsettling in a moment.
Toil and Trouble, by Trevor Suthers, and directed by Sue Jenkins is an experiment in style with confusing results. A supposed modernisation of Macbeth’s three witches speaking in a mix of rhyme, Shakespearean, modern references to benefits, and traditional witchy-ness. All performers play with energy and commitment, although the content is not strong enough to carry it.
In My Shoes, by Dave Simpson and directed by Alyx Tole, is a theatrical take on the body-swapping genre, although this time the switch is between a divorced couple (played by Judy Holt as Carol and Murray Taylor as Peter). The play lacks slickness in its intended snappy switches between each person’s perspective/dialogue. Also, although the strobe-lit body switch is funny for five seconds, it would be more interesting theatrically to watch Murray Taylor try to embody and perform the presence of Carol within his body, and vice versa, rather than the cheaper gag of a man in a dress.
A Grand Malaise and a Cappuccino, by Justin Moorhouse and directed by Rupert Hill, is a two-hander set at DWP Eccles following the benefit claims of Martin who is suffering from a grand malaise preventing him from working. Lee Toomes, as Martin, steals the show with an amusing, empathetic characterisation of a man supposedly playing the system. Ultimately, A Grand Malais is a meandering play with some convincing moments and a great conclusion.
Rebrand, by James Quinn, directed by Aileen Quinn, is a highlight of the evening with a snappy, witty portrayal of an image consultancy looking to rebrand the MOD and the concept of war. The play is confident in its own content so that it didn’t feel the need to flag up every joke, mansplanation, consumerisation, manterruption or millennial relevance. The dark wit of this play is akin to Black Mirror and is carried by excellent performances by Amy Gavin, Toby Hadoke and Danielle Henry.
Always finish on a high, they say, and Wuthering Heights at Hurricane Speed is the best, high-energy, rip-roaring way to finish the night at the theatre. Bronte’s book has been adapted by Peter Kerry and Lindsay Williams into a tight 15-minute play, directed by Joyce Branagh and performed with breakneck speed, hilarity, and panache by Amy Drake, Verity Henry, Robin Simpson and Richard Weston. The multi-roling highlights the ridiculous repetition of names and constant death throughout this gothic novel, yet somehow successfully still captures the essence of this famous story, its passion and the moors.
Runs until 12 November 2016 | Image: Contributed