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Review: JB Shorts at 53Two is a ‘captivating Manchester institution’

JB Shorts delivers a captivating evening of short plays, showcasing the talents of seasoned TV writers and actors - from heartwarming friendships to gripping mysteries, each 15-minute play is a unique journey.

JB Shorts is one of those Manchester institutions.

The concept is simple but really effective, you are invited to grab a drink and watch six short 15-minute plays.

The writers all come with a background in television.

And many of them very used to honing their writing to particular episodes of Coronation StreetWaterloo Road and Emmerdale.

This is JB Shorts 23rd set of plays and if you are used to flicking the channels on your TV or exiting an on-demand provider, in order to find something else, there is huge variety here within the stories.

I have always thought that this evening of shorts is a bit like waiting for a bus to take you somewhere.

Some turn up and deliver, others drive past you but if you wait long enough, another one will arrive and get you to where you need to be.

And that sums up JB Shorts.

The evening kicks off with Chippy Tea by Ella Greenhill and Death by Misadventure by Diane Whitley.

They are both two-handers and the one thing they have in common is their terrific performances.

Marie Critchley (Cam) and David Carpenter (Jimmy) play two lost souls who in many ways are complete opposites. They meet outside the chippy and begin to strike up a conversation.

They both judge each other to begin with and slowly but surely, an unlikely friendship develops.

There is a desire with this one, to tie everything up into a neat conclusion. But to be honest, the best part of this short is when the conversations are less plot-driven and natural.

Marie Critchley (Waterloo Road) and David Carpenter (The Bay) have beautiful chemistry and they never miss a beat in Chippy Tea.

Death by Misadventure stars Susan McArdle (Early Doors) and Hadyn Holden (Doctors) as grieving siblings and we join them after their mother has passed away.

As the piece progresses, secrets and lies begin to be aired and where this play excels is highlighting the messiness of the grief of a parent.

There are a few too many twists and turns along the way and it does mean the dialogue serves to drive the narrative and give clues.

But again, the actors carry the piece. Susan McArdle conveys how grief and guilt can combine and leave you stuck on a travelator which is going nowhere.

Haydn Holden does a good job as the absent brother, and as we explore why he was absent, it becomes clear that his sister is keeping more than her grief locked inside her.

The Before & The After by Peter Bowker is an audience favourite and from the minute it begins, you can see why.

The brilliant Rosina Carbone (Gentleman Jack) plays a nurse and she begins to talk directly to the audience, and we feel as if we are in the waiting room of a hospital.

This works wonderfully and anyone near the front shifts around in their seat.

This fast-paced short follows prison inmate Paul (William Fox), as he visits the hospital handcuffed to Andy (Liam Grunshaw) and to tell you much more would ruin it.

But let’s just say that Paul ends up in the middle of something, as two people are reunited and the sparks begin to fly.

I loved this one, as it reminded me of a classic screwball comedy and this trio of actors know how to deliver funnies and their comic timing is spot on. Rosina Carbone is bloody brilliant as the nurse herding cats, with a beautiful back story.

Unamerican is written by James Quinn and Peter Kerry and the setting is 1950s Hollywood.

Two writers are seeking the killer pitch. But a barman/actor keeps interrupting.

The barman in question is played by Will Huntington, an actor, businessman and bar manager in 53two.

And he plays this like his life depends on it and steals the play.

He constantly interrupts the two writers played by Charlotte Linighan and James Quinn and he is a great comedy actor, who knows how to pause before delivering a funny line.

His mannerisms are The 39 Steps meets The Play That Goes Wrong and you long for his character to succeed and get a part, as a result.

Life imitates art and this short is delightfully dotty.

What’s Your Poison? By Lindsay Williams is incredibly ambitious, as it is a musical play which explores a little-known true story.

And it has shades of Sweeney Todd meets Chumbawamba’s hit song Tubthumping.

The setting is a bar and Carol Donaldson who has worked on musicals previously is on composing duties here. And each time you hear “Have another one” it brings a huge smile to your face for two reasons.

You are in a theatre bar and you probably want another one.

But also because this is linked to this unbelievable true story which I don’t want to reveal, as it is best supped knowing nowt about it.

Joan Kempson holds her own here as Maudie and she is commanding and very funny.

She is well supported by Kieran Cunningham, Ben Sherlock, Sean Chriscole and Winnie Southgate.

The final play of the night is Unconscious Coupling by Jayshree Patel and it features great performances.

But one in particular took me by surprise. Keely Fitzgerald plays Mollie and the pain and disappointment etched onto her face speaks volumes.

I love a performer who remains totally in character even in the quieter moments when the spotlight is not on them.

Keely never lets up and because of that, you feel as if you have met Mollie before.

This one is a clever story about two couples and the twists are beautifully done and the lines are biting and funny.

All of the performers excel with this story, as they buy into the fact that this feels unique and yet very familiar to anyone in a long-term relationship which has run its course.

Order a drink, sit down, relax and see which JB Short is going to be your favourite.

Then when the curtain falls, have another one!

JB Shorts 23 is at 53two until 14th October and tickets can be booked here.

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