Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

JB Shorts 19

Dave Simpson, Trevor Suthers, Ben Tagoe, Joe Ainsworth, James Quinn, Peter Kerry and Lindsay Williams
Reallife Theatre Company
24 April 2018 to 05 May 2018

Following its Stage Door Foundation prize at this year's Awards, JB Shorts returns with another selection of six new stage plays by TV writers, the most effective of which are, as I've said before, the ones that stay within the original 15-minute guideline.

It's an evening of two halves, the first of which contains three interesting plays that would benefit from some development and the second with three more accomplished and complete pieces.

Dave Simpson's I've Tried It Once is really two plays: one Audrey's (Victoria Scowcroft) story of how she got together with shy Godfrey (Shaun Hennessy) whose response to every experience was that he'd tried it once and didn't need to try it again—including sex. The other is what she does with her freedom after Godfrey's death and a shocking revelation. Both plays are well written, but together the structure is off-balance and it feels too long.

Trevor Suthers follows this with his One of Our Boys, where Steve (Keaton Tyler Lansley) is about to return from overseas with the armed forces, but when he turns up he is injured and hostile to those who want to welcome him back. There are some strong moments in this piece, but it doesn't quite work as a whole.

Ben Tago's Our Club sees Emma (Sonia Ibrahim) and Stig (Paul (William) Fox) breaking into the offices of their favourite football club to demand answers from club official Caroline (Sandra Cole) over the recent takeover. There's some good comedy, verbal and physical, but the tendency to always chase the gag even at the expense of a coherent plot means that it doesn't really get going until towards the end.

Joe Ainsworth's The Stretch opens up after the interval with a monologue entirely in verse in which Lee (James Lewis) talks us through his prison sentence, from arriving as a cocky youngster convinced he will be out on appeal to his release many years later. It is well-written, performed convincingly and has some great directorial touches from Simon Naylor.

JB regular James Quinn writes and performs Equivalent, which sees Quinn's Pickering and Meriel Schofield's Shirley discussing the merits of modern art after they have just robbed the Tate Modern; Pickering is portrayed as the philistine for referring to her favourite piece as a "pile of bricks", which it is. This is funny and intelligent with a well-constructed plot, and perhaps the stand-out performance of the evening from Schofield.

After their 15-minute Wuthering Heights in JB 16, writers Peter Kerry and Lindsay Williams have reunited with director Joyce Branagh to reduce Tolstoy's War and Peace to the same timeframe. It's chaotic, exhausting and a great deal of fun to round off the evening—with a bit of audience participation.

As always, a mixed bag, but it's still only £8 a ticket and you can get a pie and a pint for a fiver at 53two.

Reviewer: David Chadderton


Comment by Alan Hulme

As David says, always a movable feast to some extent - I didn't try the pies - but always one of the most entertaining nights of the season. Two performances stood out for me - Paul (William) Fox for his sharp comic timing as the edgy/dopey football fan in Our Club, and the imposing, in every way, James Lewis, as the prisoner in The Stretch. I also found The Stretch, writer Joe Ainsworth, director Simon Naylor, the stand out piece overall, tightly written and directed and memorable.