53Two, Manchester – until 5 May 2018
Guest reviewer: Megan Hyland
JB Shorts returns this year with another series of six excellent 15-minute short plays written by some of TV’s best writers. This year’s selection combines some intense and hilarious storylines.
I’ve Tried It Once, written by ex-Emmerdale writer Dave Simpson tells the comically honest story of Audrey (played by Victoria Scowcroft), who, after her husband’s passing, decides that it’s time to find out what she’s been missing. Featuring some outstanding character-acting from Shaun Hennessy, and a stunningly witty and sensitive performance from Scowcroft, I’ve Tried It Once is a stand-out performance that will have you laughing from start to finish.
This was followed by One of Our Boys, an intense performance about the return of injured soldier Steve (Keaton Tyler Lansley). At times uncomfortable to watch, Lansley offers a powerful performance that grips the audience. However, the piece itself leaves some unanswered questions and ends on a rather abrupt note.
The last performance before the interval was Our Club, about two passionate football supporters, Emma (Sonia Ibrahim) and Stig (Paul William Fox), who just want answers from club employee Caroline (Sandra Cole). Writer Ben Tagoe presents us with familiar characters that we can both empathise and laugh with. The characters are funny without crossing the line of becoming caricatures of working class people that are merely used for comic relief. Instead, they are likable and real.
After the interval, JB Shorts opens back up with The Stretch, by BAFTA-award winning writer Joe Ainsworth (Holby City). One of the more serious performances of the night, we follow Lee (James Lewis) along his ten-year prison sentence. Ainsworth’s writing is exceptional, written entirely in rhyme which makes the performance more impactful and emotive. Lewis is magnificent, stunning the audience with his ability to convey so much raw emotion in a mere fifteen minutes. Among the other performances of the night, it feels much more intimate and stripped back, but that’s part of its charm.
Following, James Quinn (Early Doors) returns to JB Shorts this year with Equivalent, in which he also stars as Pickering, alongside Meriel Schofield (Last Tango in Halifax) as Shirley. Pickering and Shirley are waiting in a café, while one of them tries desperately to fill the silence. What follows, while unexpected, is a hilarious and witty dialogue that makes it one of the stand-out performances of the night. Quinn’s writing flows naturally and has audience members in fits of laughter, in a nicely rounded and charming piece.
The night closes on an all time high, with a fifteen-minute adaptation of War and Peace by Peter Kerry and Lindsay Williams. This performance surprised me, as it didn’t appeal to me to begin with. However, from the moment that it began, I was completely captivated by it. Kerry and Williams – along with director, Joyce Branagh – have created a magnificently ridiculous performance that will have you laughing throughout. It is light-hearted, hilarious and completely absurd in the best possible way. The cast have remarkable comedic timing and never threaten to take themselves too seriously. The performance is side-splittingly funny and is a tremendous way to round off the night.
This year’s JB Shorts is just as unmissable as the last, showcasing some magnificent local talents in an unforgettable evening. When it comes to short plays, JB Shorts has proved once again that it really is the best of the best.