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JB Short 3 (Manchester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Venue: Joshua Brooks
Where: Manchester

Six new short plays from my new favourite TV-inspired theatre night. The JB Shorts collaborators have developed a species that seems to be half traditional theatre, half comedy sketch and half short story on stage. Thankfully, it all adds up like a charm.

Competing with loud St. Patrick's Day drinkers from above, JB Shorts 3 does well to hold the audience's attention for almost two hours. We are in the basement of Joshua Brooks, after all. I find this an odd venue choice especially as it is draughty and there are pillars obstructing the view from many seats. Its a good job we have sex addicts, policemen, monkeys and a recurring comb theme to distract us.

The writers shoot simple concepts straight from the hip; delivering them via punch lines, revelations and a twist or two. A boyfriend is chosen for Big Brother after sending in a video of him telling his fame-starved girlfriend that it is utter rubbish (I'm Mad Me). This is without a doubt part of the fun, though, as is the creative freedom to open the night with an 'election broadcast', Backlash, which draws us in with typical British complaints before ramping it up to disturbing levels. Chris Hannon, Anthony Crank and Victoria Brazier find a superb balance between 'I'm one of the people' smarm and over the top stereotyping.

Quixotry is fantastically directed by Chris Bridgman; two Scrabble champions circle a high table and the small space is used well to accommodate a lover's tiff to the side and a Heimlich manoeuvre to save a player from choking on tiles. However the mid-game soliloquies are a little unconvincing and I find some of the jokes a little too obvious. The performances in Truncheons and Blackberries provide gentle slapstick as two police officers try to hide a gun from their high flying 'Ma'am' and a nosey journalist but this offering still feels slight in comparison to the other plays.

Red S.H.A.G.G stickers are handed out by a Russell Brand wannabe during the interval preparing us for the play of the same name. We enter an arena of lude sexual innuendo and half-hearted confessions from sex addicts. There are some inspired lines, delivered with gusto: "My girlfriend had an affair with my boss. No chance of a promotion then" and "The sex was probably a bit rushed."

Shakespeare's Monkeys is my favourite piece of the night. A wonderful dramatic conceit from Reallife Theatre co-founder Trevor Suthers: what if an institute were testing whether monkeys really would come up with Shakespeare eventually but was faced with closure? Joanne Haydock, as the inspector, plays straight man to the slightly unhinged Mr. Elder (Liam Tims) and half-man, half-primate Mr. Monks (Antony Bessick). It leaves me scratching my head, asking what I had just witnessed, but I love every minute.

The energy that bounces off stage, the unabashed pop culture references and the natural performances of JB Shorts 3 prove that theatre doesn't have to be feather dusted and treated with reverence. It can be the start of a debate, a laughing fit or even a night out. 

- Sophie Charara


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