Manchester Theatre Awards

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The 43 (The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival)

Ben Baxter and Aiden Ryan
Cheeky Peacocks
53Two, Manchester
21 July 2017 to 22 July 2017

Railway journeys are considered to be romantic and exotic but no-one ever says anything positive about bus travel. Buses are considered to be the mode of transport used by failures and lunatics- passengers travelling by bus, it is implied, have to be desperate or unhinged.  


Authors Ben Baxter and Aiden Ryan take a more rosy view of buses in their comedy/drama The 43.All of the passengers greet the driver by his first name and there are no over-entitled parents who turn buses into mobile crèches. For Kevin (Ben Baxter who, with Aiden Ryan and Anna Reilly takes a variety of roles) driving the bus is more of a vocation than a job. Kevin despises rival forms of public transport like taxis or trams and has a pet name for his vehicle. Then one day the bus breaks down.


Kevin’s bus provides a framework for passengers to tell a series of short stories both re-occurring and one-offs. These range from tentative romantics, squabbling geriatrics, a ‘Coronation Street’ obsessive and potential talent show entrants. The tone is largely comedic and shamelessly parochial with slighting references to gentrification and The Northern Quarter. Despite the cast bobbing up and down on their seats the bus setting is largely irrelevant – the stories would fit Just as well in ,say, a pub.


Director Aiden Ryan takes an old school approach which brings out the charm of the material. Frequent costume changes can be irritating but seeing the cast simply switch headgear or jackets between scenes becomes part of the fun. Sound effects are achieved by the cast going ‘ BRRRMM’ into a microphone at the rear of the stage- very much back to basics.


The 43 is a crowd-pleaser and there is a feeling that the cast are enjoying themselves as much as the audience. Anyone who has a life may be baffled by re-occurring stories where appreciation of the jokes depends on an awareness of the lyrics of ‘Take That’ and the characters in ‘Coronation Street’.  


There seems to be a reluctance to draw the play to a close. When the authors begin wrapping up the re-occurring stories the process is disrupted by new one-offs popping up and spoiling the flow. The conclusion of a re-occurring story featuring a man deeply in debt is so vague that I didn’t realise it had actually reached its end.


The 43 shows Cheeky Peacocks widening their range and taking a more ambitious approach since their first play, Chuggers, while retaining their tongue in cheek charm which bodes very well for the future.

Reviewer: David Cunningham