As any of you who read my blogs know - I’m a big fan of fringe theatre, running a successful fringe company myself I know the blood sweat and tears that goes in to getting a project on to the stage.We have so many great fringe writers in the city doing everything from drama to camp comedy meaning that Manchester is one of the best cities in the country to find something truly special playing in many of the small fringe venues throughout the region.

Joe O'Byrne is one of those writers that got the attention of the theatrical press and fringe audiences.
Giving up a successful career in retail management, Joe began to pursue life as an actor, however through a series of creative diversions and also seeking out some of the best undiscovered talent in the North West region, Joe has gone on to create some exceptional work as writer and director both on stage and on film and is about to return with his new play Strawberry Jack.

One of the plays that got everyone talking was The Bench set on the fictional estate of Paradise Heights.The play received high praise from critics and audiences alike and has played many successful runs around the North West. Paradise Heights where the show was set has become much more than just a backdrop for one play, the estate continues to grow and we are getting to meet more of the residents and locals through a series of works both on stage and on film, a fascinating concept that seems to be paying off.

Paradise Heights is a deprived community where poverty is everywhere and crime is around every corner. The issues are made up of what is reflected in today’s media. It’s a tough area but beneath the graffiti and grime beats a heart. The residents are ordinary folk just dealing with some of life’s extra ordinary dilemmas.Whilst the work may be dark, hard hitting and sometimes shocking, the humour is still evident, just like in life.

To create a new play is one thing, to create a fictional estate and keep the stories fresh and intriguing is quite another. It’s a brilliant concept and one that is catching on as Paradise Heights seem to be gaining a legion of fans thanks to the plays and films. Hopefully we will see shows like The Bench head in to London soon for a long run, after all Paradise Heights may be set in Manchester but each city has one, the stories are universal.

As well as The Bench,O’Byrne has taken us back to the estate with the plays and films Lookin’ for Lucky, I’m Frank Morgan, Rank and The Watcher, each taking us further in to the estate and the lives of those who inhabit it.  Now the franchise (I’m not even sure that’s the right way to describe it) is back with its new instalment Strawberry Jack, his most ambitious work yet.

Strawberry Jack Grundy was a child that grew in to a ferocious man. Once the war horse of Paradise Heights, recent events have stacked the deck firmly against the One Eyed Jack of The Ace of Spade Nightclub. He is now a fading shadow of a man he once was.  But the rescue of a girl on the mean streets of Paradise Heights thrusts Jack in to a situation he has never faced before, untapped feelings stir, and a frozen heart begins to melt. But One Eyed Jacks aren’t always lucky; someone wants Jack dead by Christmas. They say Christmas is a time for Angels.... a time for miracles. Well Jack may have found his Angel..... now all he needs is a miracle.

For anyone who is a lover of gripping theatre at its best I urge you to pay a visit to Paradise Heights and there is no better time than to pop along and check out Strawberry Jack that opens at The Robert Powell Theatre at Salford University from the 7th – 10th December.  Fans of fringe theatre need to explore the works of Mr O’Byrne and see why he is one of Manchester’s bravest writers for the stage.

I look forward to the continuing stories from Paradise Heights....... I’m just glad I don’t have to live there.

You can also watch the trailer for the play here.

Till next time

- Craig Hepworth