JB Shorts 2 is an 80 minute programme of absurdly creative, knowing and genuinely side splitting theatre with a magic combination of low, low ticket prices and short plays that steal your attention and refuse to give it back.
Presented by Reallife Theatre, the writers (Trevor Suthers, Peter Kerry, Dave Simpson and James Quinn) all have TV backgrounds and it shows: a no nonsense approach and talent for tapping comedic gold across the board.
Can We Stop It There? is the riskiest of the bunch but pulls its meta–theatrical plot off with style. Describing itself as ‘six characters in search of a play’, the night opens with two actors discussing their roles. Director after director stops the action to riotous laughter from the audience until at last Brianne Edge (the real director) Stops It There. All six ‘actors’ touch the floor to check that “this is real” which is a nice touch however, despite clearly being intentional, the ending is a little unsatisfying.
Banal Encounter plays the role of the serious older brother, propping up the more frivolous offerings with its slow, sighing tempo and thought provoking subject matter. Through the daily conversations of Mr Brown and Mrs Fisher, two ‘40s clad commuters, Kerry’s script drip feeds us with clues as to the background to their meetings: the through train’s purpose comes to light, the smoke from stage right becomes a sinister reference. The play’s power comes from its subtlety – a trench coat here, a net hat there – nothing is over done or shoved down our throats.
Marriages Are Made In Heaven is the most firmly stuck in TV soap territory but with a twist. In this play, Victoria’s past three husbands have all died in tragic circumstances. As the bride–to–be (again) lists their shortcomings, Jack, Billy and Alex are brought back from the grave by James Quinn who gets to show off his acting versatility. Stories of low sperm count and honeymooning in Lloret de Mar invite sisterly tut–tutting yet Victoria comes to the conclusion that “not all men are annoying – some are dead..” As she turns the canvas to show us the “view” from her room i.e. jail cell, you can almost hear the Eastenders closing theme tune.
I find At The End Of The Day to be the funniest but perhaps this isn’t surprisingly as making us laugh seems to be its only goal (excuse the pun). The reactions of the pair in the studio to the outrageous tunnel interviews are positively priceless and the football pundit analysis of things like the use of the words "Motherfucker" and "Cocksucker" never feels too over the top. You don’t want to take your eye off John Henshaw as Terry for one second. The humour is cheeky and inspired; references like ‘El Derby’ (Real Madrid and Barcelona) and ‘T’ Derby’ (Droylsden and Hyde United) are rife and when the bubbly Georgina (Verity Henry) reveals she is dumping Dave, the lighting guy on the TV show, for footballer Wayne Osmond, the lights go out.
Get down the date of the next JB Shorts instalment in your diary as I did as soon as I left .
Reallife Theatre hit Joshua Brooks in Manchester with six new plays from 16 to 27 March and on this form, they are not to be missed!
- Sophie Charara