53-Two, Manchester – until 27 May 2017
Guest reviewer: Megan Hyland
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.