The wonderful and hilarious Man Booker Prize winner, The Mighty Walzer by Howard Jacobson, bounces into the Royal Exchange in a world premiere stage adaptation by Simon Bent. Bent’s adaptation of The Mighty Walzer is a real scream, giving the Royal Exchange’s audience an uplifting dose of superb theatre to close the season on.
The Mighty Walzer is a lively semi-autobiographical story charting Jacobson’s experience of growing up in Prestwich. It’s a coming-of-age story about a quiet Jewish boy who moves into the slightly odd and passionate world of ping-pong, alongside discovering girls and applying for a place to study at Cambridge University.
Elliot Levey leads the cast perfectly, bearded with a smart suit, he projects the Jewish teen Oliver Walzer as well as providing the humorous mature tone of Jacobson’s narrator. Levey engages warmly with his audience, looking at members of the crowd directly – his performance feels personal. Jonathan Humphrey’s impressive direction is pacey and playful, reminding me of ‘Kevin Arnold’ and ‘The Wonder Years’ from my youth. The Mighty Walzer is feel-good theatre, intelligently executed.
Tracy-Ann Obermann shines as Sadie, Oliver’s extravagant but caring mother – her half empty glass contrasts comically with dad, Joel Walzer played by Jonathan Tafler – forever the optimist, selling odd bits and bobs out of the back of his van. There are strong performances throughout from Ann Marcuson as Sadie’s eccentric twin sisters Dolly and Dora; Daniel Abelson, Joe Coen and David Crellin also impress as big influencers during Oliver’s formative teenage years.
The Mighty Walzer will leave you smiling from ear to ear and possibly reflecting on your own awkward teenage memories. The laughter from the audience filled the Royal Exchange’s Great Hall on the night that I attended – a certain testament to how fine this production is. Don’t just take my word for it – go and see for yourselves.
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 LizStevenson. What first appears as an abstract conversation between Mathilda (SheilaJones) 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 NickAhad 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.