Social media, gizmos and gadgetry have decimated the attention span of many people. If we’re being honest, one of the first questions we ask when thinking about seeing a play is “how long is it?”
This makes JB Shorts a perfect evening to introduce (or re-introduce) yourself to live theatre. Six 15-minute pieces from seasoned TV and theatre playwrights are featured and, at just £8 a ticket, the evening delivers more bang for your buck. If you don’t get drawn into one play, there’s another one along in just quarter of an hour.
This 19th JB outing at Manchester’s 53two was a game of two halves. The first three pieces certainly had their moments. The opener, I’ve Tried it Once by Dave Simpson, was charming and cheeky, boosted immeasurably by its charismatic leads Shaun Hennessey and Victoria Scowcroft. One of Our Boys by Trevor Suthers had good intentions but leaned towards melodrama and needed more than 15 minutes to develop. As a result, it felt like more of an extract rather than a complete piece. In Ben Tagoe’s Our Club, William Fox gave a hilarious turn as a football fanatic showing great comedic skill in a script that went off on many an enjoyable tangent.
But it was the second trio of works that made the biggest impression, the stand-out being Joe Ainsworth’s The Stretch. Poetry has blended with stand-up comedy to great effect recently and here the form merged effortlessly with drama. This was a clever, beautifully written piece – both funny and heart wrenching – about the wasted life of a man in prison. This ‘short’ convincingly managed to portray a lengthy spell inside thanks, in no small part, to a pitch perfect performance from James Lewis. The actor never faltered in a role that offered a huge showcase for his ability, and he more than delivered.
James Quinn’s Equivalent was a slow burner but, as more was revealed about the two characters and the tensions between them came to light, the humour built to great effect. It was a quirky, interesting piece having fun at the expense of modern art with two perfect partners in crime (and on stage) in Quinn and Meriel Schofield.
The evening ended with glorious silliness. Peter Kerry and Lindsay Williams’ sprint through War and Peace followed the tried and tested lunacy of The Reduced Shakespeare Company and gave a hearty nod to The Play That Goes Wrong. This romp was Tolstoy on speed. The grin never left my face as the six-strong cast flung into the madness with glee – especially Robin Simpson mischievously breaking the fourth wall and revelling in the chaos
Another enjoyable, entertaining JB evening for newcomers and theatre aficionados alike. Highly recommended.
JB Shorts is showing at 53two until May 5, 2018. For more information, visit the website.