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Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Venue: The Lowry
Where: Salford

Rank is set on Halloween and an electrical storm has disrupted telephone communication and isolated the characters. The scene is set , therefore, for a play that contrasts supernatural terrors with those of a more mundane nature to let us decide which is the most frightening.

Unfortunately writer/ director Joe O'Byrne allows his love of word-play to overwhelm the atmosphere and slow the storytelling to a sluggish pace.
Taxi owner Lisa (Jeni Howarth-Williams) is revealed as the key witness in the trial  of the son of local gang boss McCready. She and her staff Nick (Clyve Bonelle), Marek (Ian Curley) and Arif (Aaron Rochford) are subject to intimidation as the Paradise Heights Estate is torn apart by riots organised by the rival gang bosses.

Lisa's brother Corny (Ben Hood) , a former boxer suffering from Parkinson's disease, is rescued from death by supernatural forces (in the shape of Phoebe Jones) and encouraged to make contact with the sister from whom he is alienated.
The title has a number of meanings as itt refers to the taxi ranks, the system of ranking boxers and the possibility of gang members gaining promotion by eliminating the witness and the rotten state of the community. This fondness for word-play runs through O'Byrne's script which is rich with memorable phrases like 'He was a stand - up guy who we wouldn't  let stand up'.

Unfortunately it also results in speeches that even Tarantino would acknowledge as verbose, which drag out the running time of the play and deprive it of any sense of menace .
Greater imagination is required in the use of multi-media techniques, such as a radio-DJ voice-over and filmed inserts,used to convey background information. The voice-over could have been played as the audience was being seated and therefore added a sense of urgency.

The play is disjointed with the over-long first half being a quest to bring the characters together. Act two has shades of The Weir with the cast telling old ghost stories. Having ignored the effect of Lisa's actions upon her staff in the first half it feels forced when the subject comes up in the second.
The acting is generally of a high standard though. Howarth-Williams takes Lisa on a journey from someone who is strong enough to take a stand but so human as to fear the consequences to a modern-day Medea. Bonelle balances Nick's awareness of his seedy actions against his desperation and Curley has fun with a broadly comic character.

The unearthly performance by Jones is exactly right for a spirit. Hood generates sympathy for the battered boxer but the script makes him too witty for someone in his condition. Only Rochford disapppoints with exaggerated gestures and, at one point,  addressing his remarks directly to the audience, instead of to Lisa.
O'Byrne builds upon the mythology of his Paradise Heights community by not only referring to past instalments but also to the future with a hint of signficant developments at Christmas.

Despite the relative disappointment of Rank, I will certainly be back for more episodes.

-Dave Cunnningham

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