The short play format limits the ability of writers to fully develop ideas but J B Shorts avoids this limitation with a varied programme of four plays with strong performances and memorable stories.
On the day of his mother’s funeral Waz (Oliver Wilson) is desperate for company and meets Carol (Jeni Howarth Williams) who is just desperate. Ian Kershaw’s A Christmas Carol is a bawdy but heart-warming tale with a striking, vulnerable but not maudlin, central performance from Jeni Howarth Williams. Miranda Parker’s understated direction moves the story at a natural pace so that by the conclusion you are mentally urging the couple to take a chance on friendship.
There is a sharp contrast with Lindsay Williams’s morality tale The Bombmaker with its constantly shifting perceptions of right and wrong. In Tehran a scientist (Amir Rahimzadeh) whose work with uranium may facilitate bomb making is offered a choice between defection or death by a Western agent (Lucas Smith). The performances, like the writing, offer different interpretations of the roles than the norm. Rahimzadeh may be innocent but his edgy, nervy performance suggests otherwise while the smooth, well-spoken Smith is the opposite of how we imagine someone who plants bombs will appear. Director Adam Quayle opens with a startling jolt and continues to build the suspense throughout.
Dave Simpson’s Maddie is a return to comedy with a mother and daughter bonding in an unusual way. The flirting between aging rock star Maddie (Judy Holt) and Ian (Chris Brett), boyfriend of her insecure daughter Mercedes (Emily Fleeshman) has unfortunate consequences. Although each performance is fine in itself (Brett’s pervy boyfriend in particular) the success of the play is due to the skill of director Caroline Clegg securing strong comic interaction between the entire cast and the gradual unification of Holt and Fleeshman against the lecherous Brett.
Red is well delivered by an enthusiastic cast and an imaginative director. Martin Gibbons uses a wide variety of techniques – football chants, monologues and tableaux – to tell the tale. But writer (and performer) James Quinn is too ambitious in his examination of the corrosive effect of corporate ownership of football clubs. He crams in so much history and opinion that the show feels rushed and he has to fall back on the old technique of generating an emotional response by using names and events with which people are already familiar. If, like me, you don’t follow the sport, you end up bemused and feeling the show is one for the fans.