Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Amazing! This blog has now had 53, 574 views.
Oscar and I say "Thank you!"

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Written by Norris and Parker
Directed by Lucia Cox
The King’s Arms, Salford
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Brian Gorman

“Why aren’t you famous, yet?” I asked them in the bar after the show. Katie Norris and Sinead Parker are a truly formidable double act, with shades of French & Saunders, Reeves & Mortimer, and (dare I suggest?) the mighty Cannon & Ball. On a bare stage containing just a couple of chairs, our two lycra-clad heroines performed a series of surreal, dark, deliciously twisted comedy sketches featuring a gallery of perfectly-realised, often grotesque  characters. Opening with the glorious ‘Twat’ song, the stage was set for a marvellous evening of superbly delirious character comedy, delivered by the best double act who aren’t yet famous. Expertly-aimed pot shots eviscerated the evil Tories, overly saccharine West End musicals (the song ‘Meat’ is delivered with lung-busting, tonsil-straining ferocity by Parker – the ‘blonde one’), and hipper-than-thou Mancunian punk poets (yes, there’s more than one). Norris (the ‘brunette one’) plays the slightly tougher, more commanding of the pair, with Parker the more submissive (revealing her Sapphic passion for her on-stage partner at hilariously inappropriate moments). As two rather attractive female performers, clad primarily in figure-hugging leotards, the more side-splitting moments came when the pair went all out to be as unattractive as possible; one prime example being the sight of David Cameron having his nether regions scratched by a fawning Nick Clegg. There was much mickey-taking at the whole ‘female comic’ aspect of the show, with both women often undermining their onstage personas, and making cringe-worthy attempts at chatting up various men in the audience (including one chap on the front row being more than happy to play ball).
Running for just an hour, All Our Friends Are Dead certainly left one wishing for more. There wasn’t a weak moment to be had, with each sketch packed with innumerable fantastic one-liners, and beautifully observed characters. These are two very talented performers, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. See them now, live on stage, before they’re snapped up for the telly, playing arenas, and retiring far too early.

Reviewed 16.07.15

Tags: Sinead Parker, Katie Norris, Lucia Cox, King’s Arms, Salford, All Our Friends Are Dead

Originally published (with bizarre edits) at

Friday, July 17, 2015


Written by Philip Martin
Directed by Michael Whittaker
3MT Theatre, Manchester (until 19th June)
Salford Arts Theatre (24/25th June)

Review by Brian Gorman

A full house is always a very welcome sight for a relatively unknown play. ‘East Of Heysham’ is written by Philip Martin, legendary creator of the 1970s BBC tv series ‘Gangsters’, plus a couple of 80s Doctor Who. Producer Gareth Kavanagh (of Manchester’s renowned Lass Productions, purveyors of many a ‘lost classic’, cult tv/film adaptation, etc.) discovered this little-known script, and has mounted it at the intimate, rather eccentrically decorated 3MT Theatre (think the TARDIS with Salvador Dali as interior designer). This is a gently humorous story of 3 sad, aging, and deeply flawed individuals bonded by their love of 50s icon James Dean (hence the title reference to the 1955 epic ‘East Of Eden’), whose character deficiencies and inner demons are teased out, and simultaneously exorcised by a newcomer to their dwindling ranks. David Slack plays the seventy-something Vince, leader of the pack, and somewhat decrepit lothario, resplendent in his snuggly-fitting, bright red windcheater (echoing Dean’s character in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’), and desperate to keep his idol’s memory alive. Slack carries the part well, and his towering bulk suits Vince’s weathered swagger, whilst hinting at the clay feet and Ozymandian fate. The downtrodden, deluded Walter (a superb performance by Pete Gibson) cowers in Vince’s shadow in a distressing, symbiotic, Clarkson/Hammond Top Gear style, whilst looking as though he will fall apart at any moment due to the stress of trying to coax into life an equally gutless and past-its-sell-by-date 16mm film projector. This pitifully undynamic duo are kept in check by the icy Bel (Wendy McCormack), a hard-nosed businesswoman making a small fortune flogging cheap anti-aging remedies to her unsuspecting customers. McCormack cuts a formidable figure, and deftly portrays a character literally held together by vanity and guilt. The themes of keeping the past alive, defying the ravages of time, and allowing past mistakes to haunt the present are communicated well by Martin’s tight, unfussy script, and Michael Whittaker’s no-nonsense direction. Energetic Roisin McCusker plays the young, enigmatic stranger in town, Sarah, and soon has the hapless Vince going all Jack Duckworth on her. You can guess how that plays out.
‘East Of Heysham’ has a clever mix of light and shade, with the gentle, morphine drip of ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ mixed with the spice of a J B Priestly morality play. No-one is wholly innocent, everybody has secrets, and all are prisoners of their own making. Beckettian? Perhaps. Pinteresque? A little. At around 90 minutes (plus interval), it certainly never drags or outstays its welcome. For a first night, this was old-fashioned, entertaining stuff, but there’s a lot to work with, and a solid cast that will grow in confidence. There’s certainly life in this Martian Chronicle.

Tags: East Of Heysham, Philip Martin, Lass Productions, David Slack, Pete Gibson, Wendy McCormack, Roisin McCusker, Michael Whittaker, Three Minute Theatre, Manchester, Salford Arts Theatre

Originally published by


Written & directed by Daniel Thackeray
Albert’s Chop House, Manchester

Review by Brian Gorman

As the title suggests, we are in the 1980s, and disco king Giorgio Moroder’s song (with vocals by The Human League’s Phil Oakey) perfectly evokes the spirit of the era. Personal computers have become a reality, and two of the industry’s entrepreneurial giants are meeting to discuss the future. Based on real-life events, Daniel Thackeray’s play (based on an idea by Lass Productions’ Gareth Kavanagh) brings us the eccentric Sir Clive Sinclair (inventor of the first pocket calculator, the first mass-market home computer, and the revolutionary-yet-ultimately-doomed C5 motor vehicle) reeling from a series of body blows to his business. Under financial pressure, Sir Clive arranges to meet his arch rival, Alan Sugar, with a view to selling the sharp-suited ex London barrow boy the Sinclair trademark and computer business. It’s a great premise for a play; two completely contrasting personalities meeting for dinner in a Chinese restaurant, with the future of the home computer market at stake. Thackeray is ideally cast as the gangly, awkward, prim and proper Sinclair, and the sparks really fly when Matthew O’Neill’s bullish, lowbrow, no-nonsense Sugar arrives to pick over the bones of the great man’s empire. With his slick-backed hair, crumpled pinstriped suit, and unshaven appearance, O’Neill plays the oafish, yet sharp-minded future business guru (and knight of the realm) perfectly.
The action is contained at the restaurant table, with a few snippets of hilarious 1980s tv ads on a projection screen. Thackeray’s direction concentrates almost entirely on the two businessmen’s conversation, eschewing any temptation for histrionics or broad theatrics. This works well, as the men engage in a mental battle for supremacy, with Sugar’s clear-sightedness and bulldozer approach gradually wearing down the rather old-fashioned and hopelessly out-of-touch Sinclair. There is a sprinkling of nice comic moments, mainly at the expense of Sugar’s table manners and lack of sophistication in contrast to Sinclair’s gentlemanly demeanour. A delightful Jess Lee’s tiny, bustling waitress serves to further highlight the men’s distinctive characters; Sugar’s laddish, cheeky chappie and Sinclair’s old school charm. There’s much here for computer geeks, with plenty of in jokes about the home computer industry (much of which, I confess, went over my head, but had many of the audience giggling), and the two lead actors make for a great double act.

Reviewed on 14.07.15
At Buxton Fringe Festival until 22nd July

Tags: Together In Electric Dreams, Daniel Thackeray, Matthew O’Neill, Jess Lee, Gareth Kavanagh, Lass Productions, Sytheplays, Clive Sinclair, Alan Sugar, Albert’s Chop House, Manchester

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Matthew Howard-Norman & Lee Joseph
(Photo by Shay Rowan)

A Double Bill with 'Naked Old Man'

Theatre Review

Taurus, Manchester
Written by George Gunby/Murray Schisgal
Directed by Paul Blinkhorn

4.5 Stars (John And Mark)/3.5 Stars (Naked Old Man)

A somewhat curious double bill; one part disturbing reflections on murder and celebrity, and the other a gentle rumination on old age, this was, overall, a beautifully entertaining evening.

Richard Sails
(Photo by Shay Rowan)

First up was ‘Naked Old Man’, by the multi award-winning Murray Schisgal (co-writer of the film ‘Tootsie’), and starring Richard Sails. This autobiographical 45 minute piece had Schisgal ruminating about his 82 years of life, in the company of several deceased friends and ex colleagues. There isn’t a lot of plot, and it was thanks to Sails’ genial characterisation that ‘Naked Old Man’ didn’t fall apart at the seams. It was effectively and efficiently done, but pretty throwaway, and more than a little self indulgent (on the part of the writer). A lot of Hollywood names are dropped, a few gently amusing anecdotes, and a lot of first-hand observations about old age. Sails is perfectly cast (though about 20 years too young), and does his best to make the material work, but there just isn’t enough to get his teeth into. A pleasant, undemanding piece, and something of a light starter for the more filling main course to come.

 Controversial, and apparently too much for Liverpool audiences (earlier performances in the city were sparsely attended, partly thanks to the negative attitude of the local press, and some narrow-minded Beatles fans). Northern Outlet Theatre Company’s latest production, ‘John And Mark’, takes a chilling look into the mind of John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, by way of the ghost of Lennon visiting the prison cell of his assassin. This new work by George Gunby was riveting, humorous, dramatic, chilling, and gut-wrenchingly emotional. Playing to a capacity audience at Manchester’s Canal Street bar, Taurus, in a claustrophobic underground theatre space, this hour long piece worked superbly well.
Matthew Howard-Norman as Chapman, portrayed a shuffling mess of a character; a repressed man-child calmly attributing his actions to the will of God, and the seeming hypocrisy of his celebrity victim. The portly, pale-skinned Howard-Norman, clad only in a pair of ill-fitting, baggy, and supremely unattractive underpants, opened the play, and physically summed up the pathetic, self-loathing Chapman in an instant. A short scene, set the night before the killing in December 1980, had Chapman begging for some human contact from a brassy, and impatient New York prostitute (Tracy Gabbitas), and being coldly rejected. Fast forward a few years, and Chapman is now living out his days in a maximum security prison, still protesting his moral innocence and remaining irritatingly uncooperative with psychiatrists and doctors. Enter John Lennon, in the wiry, virile form of actor Lee Joseph; sloping nonchalantly into view with the signature swagger and arrogant devil-may-care attitude of the scouse icon himself. Joseph embodied the man perfectly, and the scenes between Lennon and Chapman were riveting. We learned that Chapman had all the makings of a good man, that he did a lot of charity work with Vietnamese refugees, and had firm religious convictions. His obsession with J D Salinger’s novel, ‘The Catcher In The Rye’, led to him viewing the wealthy and successful Lennon as a fake, and the former Beatle as a disgusting hypocrite for preaching about peace, love, and the dismissal of material wealth whilst living the life of a millionaire celebrity. Whether Chapman had a point is up for debate, and this stage version of Lennon certainly hit back against the accusations with a compelling argument (namely, that he was only an ordinary man trying to make a difference, and that he’d have been a fool just to simply give his money away). The remarkable Tracy Gabbitas appeared again as Lennon’s Aunt Mimi, in a supremely moving scene suggesting what might have been if John had returned home to Liverpool.
The central question, of exactly why did Chapman shoot Lennon, can never be answered; the problem is with the question. For the pathetically deluded Chapman it was absolutely the right thing to do, and it was destined to happen, but for the rest of us it was an outrage for which the pain will never end.
Director Paul Blinkhorn kept a tight reign on the material, and never fell into the trap of simple black & white ethics. Chapman can be viewed as a sad, fundamentally flawed human being, who might have taken a different path in life but for a loveless childhood, and an abusive father. He could be seen as a victim, but the target of his anger and delusion just happened to be a beloved messianic figure to millions, and Chapman’s demonisation must continue, it seems. Thanks to this provocative and disturbing production, the other side of the coin spins into view. For a change.

Reviewed on 13.11.14

Tags: John And Mark, George Gunby, Lee Joseph, Tracy Gabbitas, Matthew Howard-Norman, Naked Old Man, Richard Sails, Paul Blinkhorn, Northern Outlet Theatre Company, Taurus, Manchester

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

OTHELLO - Back of the net!!!!

The fabulous Lass Productions are about to launch their new show. Here's what they have to say about it...

The award winning team behind this brand new staging of Shakespeare’s OTHELLO, set in Venezia FC have launched a KICKSTARTER fund and there are a host of opportunities to get involved in the next week.

KICKSTARTER allows people to pledge money to help support staging the play and there are some great rewards on offer to donors - front row seats, custom designed badges, mugs and T Shirts from the renowned retro designer behind VWORP VWORP, COLIN BROCKHURST, and even special Venezia FC Panini stickers featuring the cast of OTHELLO!

The Kickstarter page can be found at

More information is available at or follow us on @21stcenturylass.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Stars In My Eyes...

Brian Gorman and Caroline Munro on a date (in his dreams!)

When I review for others, I am usually asked to assign a star rating. I am now wondering whether I should devise my own system just for this blog.
I have decided. I will. Here it is ('BeeGees' is short for my name, Brian Gorman):

5 BeeGees: Me, Kathleen Turner, Kristen Scott Thomas, Patrick McGoohan, John Barry, Caroline Munro, and Christopher Walken in a bar on New Years Eve.

4 BeeGees: Excellent, but just something minor pulls it down.

3 BeeGees: Very good, but lacking something.

2 BeeGees: Good, but should be better.

1 BeeGee: I'll see you in the bar!

Be My Baby

Theatre Review

The King’s Arms Theatre, Salford

Part of The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival

Writer: Amanda Whittington
Director: Lucia Cox

A stifling hot evening in a jam-packed dark room is never a good thing. Unless you’re kept entertained, enthralled, and enlightened by a first rate company, that is. Under the quite wonderful high ceiling of The King’s Arms Theatre, which lent a Cathedral-like atmosphere to proceedings, the newly-formed Asphalt Roses theatre company made their auspicious debut. Manchester-based actor/producers Hannah Blakeley and Leni Murphy were quite rightly fed up with the dearth of female roles available in the industry, and decided to form their own all-female company to provide more opportunities for women in the North West. Amanda Whittington’s ‘Be My Baby’ provides ample opportunity for actors to shine, with half a dozen female characters. The story, set in 1964, involves four pregnant young women virtually imprisoned in an austere mother and baby home, under the watchful eye of a barely sympathetic matron. In a society unwilling to accept any behaviour outside of ‘traditional family values’, the unmarried mothers-to-be are faced with a life of shame and scarce employment prospects unless they give up their children for adoption. What could have been a scathing indictment of a backward-thinking society, a kind of female ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’, is unfortunately on this occasion, more of a gentle tale of woe. Whittington’s script avoids any truly harrowing scenes (apart from the mental disintegration of Bethan Caddick’s Norma), and all the unfortunate girls actually seem to have a pretty good time. A fine ensemble cast led by Hannah Blakeley as the awkward teen-age Mary, do absolute wonders with the material, but everything seems a little too sugar-coated. Dressed in uniform white slips, the girls resemble angelic creatures; healthy, glowing, and with little to suggest any real stress about their situation. Lucia Cox’s direction is tight when it comes to the well-choreographed musical interludes (the girls often break out into the songs of the day, and there is one superb scene with Leni Murphy’s hard-as-nails Queenie morphing into a sultry nightclub temptress), but is a little too gentle with the material. There was a dream-like atmosphere, but little sense of actual despair. Morag Peacock is suitably restrained as Matron, but I really wanted more of Nurse Ratched. Her steely demeanour weakens for an unguarded moment when it is revealed she lost her husband of one year at Dunkirk. Victoria Tunnah is delightful as the impish and ill-educated Delores, while Laura Campbell as Mrs Adams is a frightening battleaxe of a woman. Set in the round with an old, iron-framed bed at its heart, there was a suitably claustrophobic feel about the evening. Overall, a tremendous start for this new company, with a wonderful cast, and some fine surreal moments (are the girls actually angels in limbo?), but what loses this production the full five stars is a lack of true grit.

Reviewed on 10th July

Originally published at 

Tags: Be My Baby, Amanda Whittington, Lucia Cox, The King’s Arms Theatre, Salford, Hannah Blakeley, Bethan Caddick, Laura Campbell, Leni Murphy, Morag Peacock, Victoria Tunnah, Asphalt Roses


Photo: Shay Rowan

Theatre Review

The King’s Arms Theatre, Salford

Part of The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival

A familiar face on television (and team captain of BBC’s ‘Never Mind The Buzzcocks’), Phill Jupitus performed some of his early (and most recent) poetry in the guise of his alter-ego ‘Porky The Poet’. Saying that, there was no discernible difference between the Phill Jupitus we know, and the poet standing with a comically malfunctioning iPad before us tonight. In the Spartan, unpretentious space of the upstairs theatre at Salford’s popular King’s Arms pub, this was a pretty laid-back evening with plenty of smiles and a few loud guffaws. Nothing too outrageous or near-the-knuckle (save for the odd one or two cheeky, expletive-sprinkled tales). After a slightly nervy start, Jupitus relaxed into an hour long set involving rifling through reams of stationery, to regale us with short poems mainly involving going to music gigs as a young man in the 70s and 80s (his cherry being well and truly popped by the legendary Debbie Harry and Blondie). A variety of friends and fans in the audience led to some gentle banter, and a lovely moment of improvisation when a mobile phone went off. Questioning the red-faced punter about his choice of ringtone, Jupitus and his audience were delighted to hear that it was a little-known 80s band by the name of ‘Desperate Moment’. Instant Karma, one might say.
Jupitus’ ‘roly poly funnyman’ (as he described himself at one point) persona worked its charm as the evening wore on, and there was a definite warm glow in the room. Talking about his childhood, and the fact that he never knew his biological father (an Irish barman, who ran home to Cork on discovering Jupitus’ mother was pregnant), Phill gave us a short but brutally honest poem about his feelings for the man. It was on a visit to Cork that he came across the funniest newspaper headline he’d ever seen: ‘Cork Man Drowns’ (and yes, he did have to explain it). There was also a great anger at our current Government and the assumed entitlement of the ruling classes. A tale about the notorious Hollywood film star Tallulah Bankhead regularly popping to Eton to enjoy sexual encounters with the head boys was pretty eye-opening. As was her fate; spied on by M.I.5., and eventually deported. Jupitus had much to say about the state of the arts in Britain today, and illustrated his points with reference to the Red ladder Theatre Company in Leeds having its whole grant cut, while Opera North were awarded millions. The evening was a charity event in aid of a local school, and Jupitus gave a big thumbs up to The King’s Arms, and its owner Paul Heaton’s (of The Beautiful South fame) work to keep the free fringe alive and well.
All in all, quite a pleasant, undemanding evening, that felt more like a friendly session with an old mate than an actual gig. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Reviewed on 9th July

Originally published at

Tags: Phill Jupitus, Kings Arms, Salford, Porky The Poet


Theatre Review

The Apollo, Manchester
3rd July

Film-maker Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back), famed for his foul-mouthed, hilarious, and Star Wars obsessed movies played to the converted in a sell-out show at Manchester’s Apollo Theatre. Joined on stage by his ‘best buddy’ and regular film co-star Jason Mewes, the hyperactive pair introduced their latest big screen effort, ‘Jay & Silent Bob’s Big Cartoon Movie’, a 90 minute, somewhat crudely animated film featuring such memorable characters as ‘Dick Head’, a savage super villain caricature of Arnold Schwarzenegger (whose ridiculously muscular physique is complemented by a huge purple head regularly ejaculating over everthing in sight!), and ‘The Dickler’, a self-abusing parody of The Riddler from the Batman comics. It was all good dirty fun, with a non-stop delivery of schoolboy innuendo, and some sharp-witted tongue-in-cheek swipes at the comics industry. A raucous audience lapped up every second of this 3 hour show, which also included a live podcast, and a question & answer session that regularly involved over-excitable fans climbing on stage for impromptu photographs with their heroes. Smith was a laid back, genial, and humble host, doling out pearls of wisdom about making it in the movie business, and delivered a genuinely moving story about a recent visit to the new Star Wars set at Pinewood Studios, and his sobbing uncontrollably in the cockpit of a life-sized Millennium Falcon. This is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, and is grateful for every moment of a career where he can indulge his every childhood obsession. In contrast to their big screen counterparts (Smith plays the almost mute ‘Silent Bob’, with Mewes as the obscenity-spewing motormouth ‘Jay’), Smith dominated proceedings with a breathless delivery, while Mewes gurned and played the silent clown. The main theme of the night was Mewes’ life-long battle against drug addiction (from which he has now been clean for 4 years), and Smith’s utter devotion to his friend. The pair have a genuine love for each other, which shines through; a love that clearly doesn’t stop them from mercilessly ridiculing one other. Smith is regularly referred to as a ‘fat fuck’, for instance.
The grand finale was a surreal game involving Mewes miming a variety of outrageous sexual acts with volunteers from the audience. Indescribable, disturbing, hilarious, grotesque, yet delivered with a charming innocence by the man-child Mewes.
Not for the faint-hearted, but a wonderful evening for devoted fans.
This was the final night of the 4 date tour.

Originally published at (minus a few naughty words!)

Tags: Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Jay & Silent Bob, Super Groovy Cartoon Movie

Someone Who'll Watch Over Me

Richard Patterson & Alistair Gillies. Photo by Shay Rowan.

Theatre Review

Written by Frank McGuinness
Directed by Colin Connor

Tuesday 8th July
Joshua Brooks, Manchester
Part of Greater Manchester Fringe Festival

Three characters on a single set; this had better be good! And it was. Three totally committed actors play out Frank McGuinness’s modern classic in a completely appropriate setting; the basement of Joshua Brooks pub. Bare brick walls, harsh lighting, claustrophobic black flats, etc. This is a play that stands or falls on its actors. The well-known real-life tale of an Irishman, an American, and an Englishman held captive in 1980s Beirut. Based on a true story, but never falling into the trap of playing for easy emotional responses. What must it be like to be held in a dark cell, with no outside contact, no hope, no home comforts? Cynical Irishman Edward (Richard Patterson) is the lynchpin; all caustic humour, snide wisecracks, and homeboy charm. In the opening scenes we find him exchanging life-affirming witticisms with Adam (Alastair Gillies), a solidly-built, optimistic, bible/koran reading American. Gillies certainly looked the part with an enormous life-of-its-own beard (real, by the way), caveman hair, and wretched fingernails. Gillies tore at the heartstrings with many a fine moment; longing for freedom, praying for redemption, and stoically accepting his fate. This was a fine double act with Patterson’s skinny adversary; all trembling bravado, finely-tuned angst, and cunning mindgames. The acoustics certainly helped, as noises from the bar above helped to reinforce the atmosphere of a world tantalisingly just out of reach of our heroes. The addition of a third character; an uptight Englishman called Michael (Karl Seth) throws Edward and Adam’s relationship into sharp relief, and the stage is now set for an intriguing insight into human behaviour. Survival is the aim. Survival of the spirit. Who will crack? Who will make this shabby little cell their universe? Each character has his moment; each demonstrates his strengths and weaknesses. Seth’s Michael grows in stature with every moment; constantly challenged by Patterson’s niggling Edward. Superb scenes involving re-enactments of Virginia Wade’s 1977 Wimbledon triumph, various imaginary drinking sessions, and quiet moments of personal tragedy are expertly communicated. Grubby, dirty, with every dignity stripped away; who will triumph? But this is not the question. Writer Frank McGuinness isn’t interested in the easy answers. Whether they survive physically simply does not matter. We all die. We can all be humiliated and crushed by cowards, but we can all choose the manner in which we face adversity. This is a play that, in less expert hands, could easily wallow in sickly heartstrings-plucking emotion, but director Colin Connor has a firm hand, and the audience never has an easy time of it. These are real people, not stereotypes.
Three bloody good actors, one cracking play, and one expert director.

Originally published at

Tags: Colin Connor, Richard Patterson, Karl Seth, Alastair Gillies, Frank McGuinness, Joshua Brooks

Thursday, March 13, 2014

ONE SHOT: review

Written & illustrated by Joe O’Byrne

 Through a glass darkly.

Review by Brian Gorman

Bolton-based playwright, actor, and film-maker Joe O’Byrne is something of a local hero on the Manchester arts scene. His series of plays based on the fictional housing estate Paradise Heights (an amalgam of O’Byrne’s hometown Bolton and his beloved Salford & Manchester) has garnered much acclaim, and been favourably compared with Jimmy McGovern’s tv series ‘The Street’, as well as the gritty urban works of Ken Loach, Martin Scorcese, and Shane Meadows. Now, as a big graphic novel fan, O’Byrne has released his next Paradise Heights instalment in the form of this mini episode, featuring arguably his most popular character, the hard man anti-hero Frank Morgan.

King of clubs.

 I’ve seen several of Joe’s stage plays, and been mightily impressed at how he can deliver a solid theatrical right hook with scenes of truly imaginative violence, yet often within the very same scene rip your heart open with breath-taking honesty of emotion. His characters are often broken, yet possessed of indomitable spirit. Frank Morgan encapsulates this perfectly; he’s Eastwood and Ray Winstone rolled into one. He can break every finger you have, yet look you in the eyes and shatter your heart with a few softly spoken words. Frank knows all. His greatest flaw is he knows himself too well.

‘One Shot’ opens with a cracking poem that perfectly illustrates the world of Paradise Heights. No-one can be trusted (not even the identity of the narrator, in this instance), and anything can happen if you let your guard down for even a second. O’Byrne crafts his words well. There’s the hard-boiled style of Mickey Spillane and Frank Miller, yet each sentence is shot through with a raw emotion and fearless intensity. The words flow from the page like gravel-infused honey, and you never know what’s going to happen next.


 ‘One Shot’ gives us a glimpse into the mind, heart, and tattered soul of a man with absolutely nothing to lose. This is a nightmare world, but a wholly recognisable one (which makes it even more disturbing), but with shafts of celestial light illuminating microscopic spots of hope, and the faint possibility of redemption.

O’Byrne’s illustrations are simplistic, and perfectly evoke Frank Morgan’s sinful and gut-wrenching inner and outer space. There are lots of silhouetted figures in bare, claustrophobic spaces. Precious little light breaks through the gloom, but it is O’Byrne’s words that are his greatest strength. The pages could contain simple matchstick figures, and the raw, unfettered, animal cry of Frank Morgan’s words would paint a multi-million dollar epic in your mind’s eye.

This is dark stuff indeed. Perfectly Frank.

'One Shot' is available soon. 

More about Joe O'Byrne: