Spanning social media silliness to moral dilemmas and unruly rock stars, this short play special is back

Now in its ninth year JB Shorts continues to deserve its status as one of the highlights of Manchester’s fringe theatre. The formula of six shorts plays, roughly fifteen minutes each, showcases Manchester writers and actors in an always entertaining evening.

Artistic Differences, the opening play, written by Lindsay Williams and directed by Mickey Jones, includes a few original tunes and tells the story of two former rock star band members who can’t stand to be together; vindictive arguments dominate their artistic life, even in the most inappropriate of circumstances. Surely that couldn’t happen? Manager and PR guru Angie [Keeley Fitrgerald] just about manages to keep Jez [John Mackie] and Ash [Stephen Donald] on track in an entertaining opener.

Making Waves tells an interesting and powerful story, not too far from home. Experienced writer Jan McVerry places her characters in a boat off the shore of Ireland facing their own moral dilemmas. The individual stories would bear a detailed examination in a longer drama, but this short piece is a powerful introduction for those unaware of this particular story, and a powerful reminder of how some women’s life choices are dominated by the beliefs of the powerful.

Forever Eighties is a tale of missed opportunities, lasting love, and unexplained desertion. The story, written by Dave Simpson and Diane Whitley, and directed by Sue Jenkins, allows the women to express emotion while the men largely keep feelings hidden. In fifteen minutes, it’s therefore difficult to empathise with the men, a use of a reality which at times makes this piece feel a little unbalanced. 

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Val Tagger as Florence in Flotsam and Gypsum Sean Mason

The show’s directors have rearranged the order since the early runs; a good decision as the three post-interval shows are of the highest standard.

First comes Playmates, a fantastic vehicle for the superb acting talents of Kimberley Hart-Simpson as Catherine and Peter Ash and Jeremy; two toddlers playing together, their scenarios a mix of their own imaginations, elements of popular culture, and repeats of what they’ve learned from the adult world. When they morph into an adult couple rowing it all seems so, well, childish.

Just Sayin’ is a social media conversation, delivered by actors. Sharply written by Peter Kerry and James Quinn it conveys the pace, the silliness, the rewards and the negativity of much of our online ‘debate’, and the way it takes you to places you didn’t really want to be. By placing the cast along a high bench, as if in a Northern Quarter café, separate but together, this piece forces us to laugh at how daft we really are online, and how unpleasant we can be. If you time travelled this play back ten years, people would no doubt be amazed as how vacuous it sounds. At the end, you’re reminded of that Daily Mash article heralding the invention of ‘the pub’ as a new place where you can take your SM conversations into a new face-to-face setting. This is the best LOL piece in the whole evening. 

Finally, Flotsam and Gypsum is a delightful tear-in-the-eye story of Paul [William Fox] and Florence [ Val Tager]. Written by Peter Bowker, whose The A Word is currently showing on BBC1, it looks at dementia, loyalty and honesty. Paul is a plasterer, a friend of Florence’s son. Occasionally Florence, whose dementia wafts in and out of her days, mistakes Paul for her son, and then for her husband, often giving away too much. It’s beautifully played and strong enough to follow two very funny plays.

A great evening out in a warm and friendly environment - with WiFi. 

JB Shorts 18 runs at 53two until Saturday 18 November