Friday, 23 November 2018
REVIEW: J B Shorts 20 - 53Two, Manchester.
The institution that is J B Shorts is back again. As always, 6 x 15 - 20 minute plays from current film and TV scriptwriters with a whole bunch of local actors and actresses to fill out these varied and interesting characters. They've done it 19 times before, and long may it continue. Even if the formula is staid, the beauty is that we all know what to expect, and that's bucket-loads of talent, and a guaranteed entertaining evening amongst friends.
There was also a surprise in store too - the last piece to be performed this evening was a mini comic opera, through-sung, in the style of Gilbert And Sullivan. An absolute highlight!
However, before that we watched 5 plays; one of which was a clever re-imagining and another the sequel to plays we saw at a former J B Shorts. 'I've Tried It Once...Again' by Dave Simpson and directed by Alice Bartlett shows Godfrey (Shaun Hennessy) and Audrey (Victoria Scowcroft) again, only this time the story is told from Godfrey's perspective. This bitter-sweet comedy is a pleasant diversion Whilst James Quinn's 'Equivalent 2' (director Chantell Walker) takes us back to the two inept burglars who stole 'a pile of bricks' from The Tate Modern. Here we learn that one of them is a vicar and the other a policeman! And as if that was funny enough [as the play remarks, rather like an Ealing Comedy!] there is a dim-witted verger around who at any moment is likely to unwittingly blow the gaff wide open! James Quinn and Meriel Schofield reprise their roles with Katy OIiver as the verger who laughs at her own awful puns!
'Best Behaviour' by Lindsay Williams opened the shorts, and saw Julie Edwards give a lovely motherly and sympathetic performance as an ageing landlady. We are in the 1960s, and a young George Best (Duncan Butcher) comes over from Belfast to play for Manchester United, and he strikes up a lovely relationship with landlady Mary. The play falls down on pace and content, and Butcher's performance is somewhat bland, but worth watching just to hear Edwards come out with true Northern dialect, and phrases which echo the times superbly.
The second half of the evening though is by far the stronger. It opens with Diane Whitely's 'What's The Good' which is an imagined scenario based on reality. Wartime poet, Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, nicknamed 'Woodbine Willie' (Jake Farrell) was a front-line chaplain who wrote poetry about his experiences and the people he encountered whilst on duty. He opens the story, embittered and plaintive, and introduces us to another real soldier, George Ellison,(Marcus Christopherson), reputedly the last British soldier to be killed in action before the end of the first world war, dying whilst on duty near Mons only 90 minutes before the Armistice came into effect. Take these two real historical people and combine them with George's young wife (Helen O'Hara) and some tight and realistic directing by Simon Naylor, and this is certainly hard-hitting lump-in-the-throat material. I enjoyed the idea of using live showreel footage of the war on a sheet on the washing line, but I wonder just exactly how many people would know or recognise the final image / sound combination. It is actual archive sound recording of the final moments of warfare and the ensuing silence thereafter.
But it was the 8 strong cast who portrayed the murderous and highly humorous G+S Mickey-take style opera which really stole the show. A few of the things which happened seemed out of period - assuming the period to be the 1930s - but this can be overlooked, since the premise of this murder melodrama was hilarious and beautifully directed by Roger Haines. The one thing which I didn't understand was why the music suddenly stopped half-way through leaving the performers to continue for several minutes a capella before it resumed again. Was this intentional or a technical hitch? I sincerely hope the latter.
Another highly enjoyable evening at J B Shorts 20. I am always amazed by the variety of pieces and styles on offer, and also by the amount of creative talent on display from both performers and creatives alike.
Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 22/11/18