REVIEW: JB Shorts 17 (53-Two, Manchester)

JB Shorts 17 at 53-Two, Manchester until 27 May 2017
JB Shorts 17 at 53-Two, Manchester until 27 May 2017
upstaged rating: 

JB Shorts 2017 is a diverse collection of six short plays – each lasting fifteen minutes – written by established TV writers. Started in 2009, it is a bi-annual event that aims to showcase local talent in and around Manchester.

The first in the selection of plays is Helen Farrall’s Turn Around When Possible, which tells the story of married couple Gemma (Alexandra Maxwell) and Kev (Gareth Bennett-Ryan), who are on their way to Gemma’s birthday meal when their car breaks down. And while they run into Kev’s boss Melissa (Julia Walsh), they find that she is not all that they have to confront. Bennett-Ryan offered an emotional performance, however, Maxwell and Walsh’s delivery at times fell flat. Although at times the storyline felt reminiscent of a soap-opera, it had an undeniable heart.

Living the Dream by James and Aileen Quinn follows, starring Adam Jowett as Sam, a rehab patient tended to by nurse Rosa (Sandra Cole). This particular play features both clever and politically charged dialogue, with “Sam” representing fallen America. Both Jowett and Cole offer engaging performances, pushing the eloquently written script to new depths. Despite this, had I not read the play’s summary beforehand, the true meaning of the character may not have been as clear.

The last play before the interval is Pretty Pimpin’ by Peter Kerry. Richard (James Quinn) is preparing to appear on the radio show Desert Island Discs in order to promote his memoir. However, both his agent Vicky (Victoria Scowcroft) and his daughter Janet (Alice Proctor) feel that one song, in particular, is missing. Kerry’s writing is beautifully delivered by the cast, offering a poignant and bittersweet story about the helplessness of a father.

Despite the promising quality of the first three plays, those that followed the interval were perhaps the best of the night, and my personal favourites.

Ian Kershaw’s Keep Breathing is a hilarious and skilfully written piece, starring Amy Drake as spinning instructor Carly, reflecting on her week whilst giving a class. The character of Carly will be familiar to many, and Drake brings remarkable charm and heart to her. And as Carly begins to realise that life with condescending boyfriend Matt (Ethan Holmes) may not be all that it seems, Keep Breathing takes on a more inspirational tone, encouraging us to live life for ourselves, not for others.

This was followed by Nick Ahad’s equally hilarious Inside Voices, which follows characters Reshma (Perveen Hussain) and Bob (Adam Rickitt) on their first date. However, there are some rather uninvited guests – their egos, played by Sara Latif and Leon Tagoe. With Inside Voices, Ahad offers an insightful and humorous look into self-censoring and what might happen if we just stopped listening to that inside voice.

But perhaps the most surprising performance of the night was Dave Simpson and Diane Whitley’s Pot Plant. Pensioners Iris (Jenny Gregson) and Stephen Aintree (Brian) are enjoying a quiet night at home when their house is raided by the police – but what will they find? Simpson and Whitley’s writing is as unexpected as it is absorbing. What starts out as a humorous story of two pensioners facing charges for the most unlikely crime actually has a deeper meaning to it. Gregson and Aintree’s experience serves them well in this unique piece, both giving a committed and at times riveting performance.

Overall, JB Shorts 17 is not to be missed. It is a delightful evening full of wit, charm and remarkable poignancy. And most importantly, it succeeds in delivering what it aimed to do – showcasing local talent.

-Megan Hyland

JB Shorts 17 runs at Manchester until Saturday 27th May 2017.

REVIEW – JB Shorts 13 (Joshua Brooks)

John Catterall and David Crellin in Coalition Nightmare
John Catterall and David Crellin in Coalition Nightmare
Date: 16 april 2015
Upstaged Rating: 

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.

-Kristy Stott

JB Shorts 13 is on at Joshua Brooks until Saturday 25th April. Tickets cost £7.00.