Writers: Ian Kershaw, Lindsay Williams, Dave Simpson &Diane Whitley, James Quinn
Directors: Miranda Parker, Adam Quayle, Caroline Clegg, Martin Gibbons
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
JB Shorts has become a traditional part of the Manchester theatre calendar since it launched in 2009, bringing TV writers and local actors together to produce short, snappy plays. Strung together they always make for an entertaining night of eclectic entertainment. For those who missed 2012’s batch at Joshua Brooks, Re:play has brought four of the best back to Lowry Studio. Re:play, run by the Library Theatre and now another Manchester stalwart, picks the best emerging theatre from the past year and gives it another airing.
Tonight’s pick of JB Shorts includes black comedy, political drama and a passionate exploration of the football business. The fact that all the plays sit back to back, with hardly a pause between, creates an energy of its own, but these four plays hardly need the helping hand. All four are sharp, well written and beautifully performed.
Ian Kershaw’s two hander – A Christmas Carol – is a skilfully crafted comedy with a dark undertone. It’s Christmas, and Carol (Jeni Howarth Williams), a lonely single woman, is delighted that she’s managed to drag a good-looking stranger (who turns out to be Woz [Oliver Wilson]) home from the pub. The pair drunkenly get to know one another, revealing their lighter and darker sides in equal measure. Howarth Williams is a great comedy performer and a delight to watch as she wrestles with her rampant sex drive, Woz’s apparent lack of interest and her vicious dog.
The Bombmaker by Lindsay Williams is a political drama set in Tehran. A young man (Lucas Smith), trying to plant a bomb under a car is caught in the act by the car’s gun-wielding owner, a scientist (Amir Rahimzadeh) whose work on nuclear weapons has made him the target. As the two men, locked in stalemate, try to reach a deal, the question of who’s the bad guy begins to emerge. Smith’s cool performance is chilling, Rahimzadeh’s full of raw fear, creating a tense, tight piece which spirals disturbingly towards its inevitably tragic end.
Maddie by Dave Simpson &Diane Whitley lacks the simplicity and clarity of the previous two works. Celebrity Maddie (Judy Holt) flirts relentlessly with her daughter’s smarmy boyfriend (Chris Brett), won over by his drooling groupie antics. When he reads rather more than intended into her flirting and arrives at the house armed with a box full of sex toys, chaos ensues and he gets rather more than he bargained for. The rude jokes and physical comedy, particularly from the hilarious Chris Brett, have the audience hooting with laughter but the play seems determined to push home the underlying theme of a jealous mother and her celebrity damaged daughter, an unnecessarily clichéd message in what is really a very funny little play.
The final play, Red by James Quinn is a passionate dramatic reconstruction of the story behind FC United, Manchester’s supporter-owned semi-professional football club, established in 2005 by United fans opposed to the Glazer’s controversial takeover of the club. In this beautifully crafted little play, the passion for the game plays out against the corporate machine. Graham (James Quinn) is a red through and through, FC United red that is. Having lost his match ticket he’s forced to stay at home with his catering manager wife (Penny McDonald), watching the match on ESPN while she’s devising menus for the corporate boxes at Old Trafford. It’s pies verses mille feuille. The teams are embodied by the bouncy, fresh-faced Sinead Moynihan (FC United) and be-suited Beckham-alike Daniel Jillings (Manchester United), voicing their community versus corporate line. It’s a lovely way to tell an inspiring true story.