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Zack (Manchester)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Zack is a lesser known play by Harold Brighouse than his much admired classic Hobson's Choice. Like that down to earth Northern comedy, this is light, breezy and a whole lot of fun. Yet, in the capable hands of the Royal Exchange Theatre, it is without doubt, the best play on offer in the North West this Christmas and as moving as their stunning production of Harvey.  

Greg Hersov's production explores the life of Zack Munning - a man who loves the simple things in life and taking it easy. His harridan of a mother (Polly Hemmingway) and his go-getter brother Paul (Pearce Quigley) order him around and constantly criticise him. This starts off light hearted, but soon you realise that they do not care about Zack's future, unless it involves financial gain.

It may seem a real risk casting stand up comedian, radio presenter and one time Phoenix Nights star - Justin Moorhouse in the title role but it really pays off, as this talented performer brings real heart and soul to the role, making even the most slapstick filled scene feel incredibly poignant. His projection is sometimes slightly off and some of his lines are missed as a result, but he really imbues Zack with so much more than is on the page.

Bighouse's witty one liners only work in experienced hands and Hemmingway rises to the challenge as she is delightful as Zack's overbearing and money grabbing ma, Quigley is deliciously dour and James Quinn and Samantha Power are both totally believeable as a scheming father and daughter also willing to dupe our loveable lump. Kelly Price plays cousin Virginia and is very authoritative and her chemistry with Moorhouse is a joy to behold. Lastly Michelle Tate steals many scenes as the 'tell-it-like-it-is' maid, Sally.

Laurie Bennett's gorgeous set design presents the Munning household as one of wannabe social climbers, yet at the same time, a relaxing hideaway for Brighouse's hero. Richard Owen's lovely lighting adds to the deceit of this desperate family.

Hersov directs this play beautifully with a light touch and a sense of purpose. So much so, that by the end you may find yourself shedding a tear - yet smiling from ear to ear. As heartwarming as mulled wine and mince pies, Zack is an absolute must-see and I want to go again.

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