Date: 16 april 2015
After 12 sell-out seasons, JB Shorts is back with its thirteenth edition. For those who aren’t familiar with JB Shorts – it is an evening of 6 brand new plays, each of 15 minutes duration, written by respected television writers. JB Shorts was first produced in 2009 and has built up a brilliant reputation and received widespread critical acclaim – this live entertainment bonanza continues to brighten up the dark cellar of Joshua Brooks pub in Manchester city centre with two editions each year.
First up is Talk Talk, a two hander written by Catherine Hayes and directed by Liz Stevenson. What first appears as an abstract conversation between Mathilda (Sheila Jones) and Ellie (Jennifer Hulman) about currency and post codes actually transpires to be a very peculiar job interview.
Karaoke Cara, written by Trevor Suthers and directed by Barry Evans, is up next. When snotty Michael (Bill Bradshaw) tries to snoop on his widowed and aristocratic father’s new love interest he gets more than he bargains for. Encouraged by his super-posh friend Jeremy (Aaron Cobham), the story takes a humorous twist when his fathers new girlfriend Cara (Denise Hope), shop worker and karaoke singer, manages to get the upper hand on the pompous pair. Bradshaw and Cobham’s exaggerated upper class accents, which did slip at times, masked some of the promising humour in the script.
Number three is Chris Thompson’s Safe in Our Hands. Directed by Alyx Tole, it is a left wing Dickensian expression about the state of the NHS. When Bunyan (Ralph Casson) complains about pains in his chest, three ghosts visit him – the first his dead mother Bev (Joyce Branagh) who gives him a dressing down with a fine performance; secondly, upper-class Bullingham (Jack Dearsley) appears as a representative of capitalism trying to flog elements of the NHS to Bunyan; finally, he’s joined by the ghost of Branston (Ethan Holmes) who tries to convince him to purchase private health care while dressed as a Virgin air hostess. It’s all very entertaining and relevant to the general election next month.
Illusion written by Diane Whitley and directed by Alice Bartlett, was the highlight of the night for me. Through the interval the cast roam the crowd performing card tricks which paved the way for the Victoria magic show which followed. A renowned magician, Mafeking (James Lewis) has disappeared during one of his shows and his comrade Archie (Haydn Holden) organises a spooky séance to try to find out what has happened to him. All of the cast put in strong performances namely, Vanessa Hehir, Emma Laidlaw, Alex Phelps and Joe Slack and the staging for the magic tricks is well executed and managed.
Number five was A Muslim, a Jew and a Christian Walk into a Room written by Nick Ahad and directed by Max Shuell which depicts an Orwellian state where religious expression has been outlawed. The three characters David (Garry Hayden), Qadir (Kamal Kaan) and James (Murray Taylor) meet in secret to pray. However, a clever turn in the plot reveals that one of the characters is not how he appears.
Coalition Nightmare was the final short of the night, written by Dave Simpson and directed by James Quinn, it depicts the nightmarish prospect of UKIP managing to swing the balance of power in a hung parliament. There are good performances all round, Jack (David Crellin), Ted (John Catterall) and Charlotte (Jenny May Morgan) stealing the show with a well observed and well timed representation of a newsreader.
JB Shorts never disappoints, however, this time it seemed to be overloaded with political material due to the general election next month. And with the election propaganda being forced down our throats at the moment, I would have welcomed more escapism, like Diane Whitley‘s Illusion, with open arms.
JB Shorts 13 is on at Joshua Brooks until Saturday 25th April. Tickets cost £7.00.