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Rank (Manchester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Venue: Dancehouse, Manchester

Rank is the fourth instalment of the Paradise Heights saga by local based writer Joe O’Byrne. The play has already received much critical acclaim from its debut run at the Lowry Theatre earlier this year, and so due to popular demand has been restaged at Manchester’s Dancehouse Theatre.

Following on from O’Byrne's other pieces, (I’m Frank Morgan, The Bench and Feature film Lookin’ For Lucky) Rank is set in the fictitious estate of Paradise Heights and looks into the lives of the people that inhabit it. This time round its Halloween and we focus on Lisa owner of the local taxi firm, who due to a police faux pas means she is named as a key witness to the death of a local 14 year old boy caught in the cross fire between rival gang leaders and is now paying the price. 

That would be more than enough for anybody but Lisa has other skeletons in the closet and her relationship with Corny her brother who is suffering with some serious mental issues also has its ugly voice to raise.

The strength of this production as with most of O’Byrne's pieces lies in the writing, as he has a style that juxtaposes sharp dry humour with searching and seering dialogue. Joe also directs and brings a creative mix of his first love of film making right into the heart of the piece. Mixing live action and video (expertly shot and designed by Ed Lilly) is at the best a tricky thing to do and apart from one small timing error from the cast on stage, appearing both on screen and on stage, the effect is seamless and well executed.

The set designed by Ian Curley, (who also stars in the production) has provided a simple set, of beaten up sofas, the office of Lisa’s taxi rank, and also used as a coffee shop and gangland office, although the set does exactly as it needs to for the purpose of the show, one feels it needs to have some more dressing to create a final look especially before the show receives its third outing next month in Nelson.

Performances on the night were generally highly impressive. Binging O’Byrne's quick fire dialogue to life is not an easy task to do, as there is so much to be said and so many underlying hints and references to previous plays and subplots throughout. Ben Hood is impressive as Corny and even through his characters physical state manages to bring warmth to his character throughout.

Clyve Bonelle[ as taxi driver Nick is stunning with an amazing on stage presence which just oozes angst and tension and you cannnot help but be mesmerised  by his gritty vocal performance. Likewise [Jeni Howarth Williams really packs an emotional punch as Rank owner Lisa, providing a subtle and highly emotionally engaging performance and it is easy to see why she was the recipient of MEN Best Theatre Actress award two years ago.  

It’s a shame that some of the actors didn’t feel as comfortable on stage as one would hope, but Aaron Rochford’s performance as Arif (another driver) was somewhat disappointing, only being sat fiverows back I found it hard to understand what was being said, as his heavy lilted accent quickly became a heavy drowned mumble, which is a shame because he is clearly very talented.

Apart from a few minor technical issues Rank is a success but as a warning to readers; don’t go to see the show if you are looking for an easy ride as this most certainly isn’t one.
Having said that, I await the premiere of O'Byrne's next instalment, Torch with eager anticipation.

-John Roberts


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