Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Town Hall Tavern, Manchester

Reviewed Sat 20th July


Billed as ‘Three of the best recent short comedies from across the North West’, this was 45 minutes showcasing new writing, and the three pieces contrasted perfectly. 

Jonah Walsh, Pat Marchant, and Jez Smith in 'Paradise Street'

First up was Tommy Warburton’s ‘Paradise Street’ (from Oldham Coliseum Firstbreak Festival), a heart-warming throwback to a gentler age of situation comedy. Set during the 1970s, this bore more than a passing resemblance to classic era Coronation Street, with a nod to the more contemporary ‘The Royle Family’. Jez Smith (giving a loveably nonchalant performance with seemingly effortless comic timing) led as amiable patriarch Alf, desperate to settle down for an evening of cheese and pickle butties and footie on the telly, when a sudden power cut forces the family to get out the long-neglected games box. Long-suffering wife Vera (Pat Marchant channelling Sue Johnston) relishes this unexpected chance to indulge in some quality time with the couple’s teen-age children, Gary (Jonah Walsh – a nicely-judged turn as the callow yet generous-of-spirit youth) and Helen (Lily Shepherd in a beautifully-mannered performance of great warmth and attention to detail). A brief cameo from Martin Henshell as genial neighbour Mike completed a lovely ensemble. This is good old-fashioned entertainment, and writer Warburton skilfully sketches in some instantly loveable characters with little trace of cynicism or any clever-clever postmodernist approach. What you see is what you get, and ‘Paradise Street’ lives up to its name; in an ideal world, this is where we’d all love to be. The actors gelled perfectly, and I would certainly relish seeing the family again someday soon. Director Daniel Thackeray had a steady hand on the tiller, and the slapstick moments never descended into farce. Extra kudos to Lily Shepherd for expertly reading in the role of Helen (due to a last minute non-appearance of actress Niamh Prestwich; thanks to a train delay).

Lily Shepherd in 'There's Only One Man, Utd'

Next up was ‘There’s Only One Man, United’ by Robert Pegg. Certainly a clever title, but one hopes it won’t become a victim of a misplaced comma anytime soon, as this is very much an anti-football, pro relationship piece. Lily Shepherd (this time directing too) took to the stage once again as an un-named (or at least uncredited in the programme) young woman, stranded in a rainy Albert Square while her ‘Red Army’ boyfriend celebrates the Premier League winning Man Utd, and the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Clad in an ill-fitting plastic cagoule, and delivering all her dialogue into a mobile phone, our plucky heroine completely dismantles her hapless boyfriend’s lifestyle, constantly reminding him that he would never get into ANY ‘army’, red or otherwise, and that the occasion is about an old man retiring (“That’s what old men do; they retire!”). Her exasperation and righteous anger at being made to play second fiddle to a macho ritualistic event, is played out to marvellous comic effect, and Ms Shepherd creates a wholly sympathetic and very human character. This is a tremendous showcase monologue, and the actress delivered it brilliantly, stealing our hearts completely. As with ‘Paradise Street’, the audience were left with a warm glow, and a spring in their step.

Martin Henshell and Kaylea Simon in 'Sexytime'

Last but not least we had ‘Sexytime’ by Chris Jenkins, and here again was another humorous short piece that delivered totally believable characters in an expert mix of laugh-out-loud one-liners , and heart-breaking moments. Martin Henshell played the hapless Brian, a seemingly lazy, stay-at-home artisan caring more about his beloved dog than his hard-working and stressed-out girlfriend Sarah (Kaylea Simon). While Brian frets about ‘Dave’ (the dog) trapping himself in the bathroom, Sarah is far more concerned about getting the timing right in order to conceive a child. Tonight is the last chance they will have for a month, as Sarah needs to get Brian aroused ASAP. This is a great two-hander, giving both actors a range of emotions to work on in a pressure cooker situation, tightly directed by Paul Anderton. Martin Henshell is spot-on with his hangdog ‘what have I done now?’ expression, seemingly oblivious to his lover’s obvious needs, while Kaylea Simon is simply wonderful as the desperate Sarah, initially appearing as a ball-busting workaholic, yet evolving gradually into a desperate and vulnerable child-woman. There are some genuinely heart-breaking moments amid the chuckles and belly laughs, and Ms Simon conveys every emotion with beautiful economy of body language and facial expression.

This was a fantastic night at The Town Hall Tavern, and more than one star was born this evening, mark my words. Producers Daniel Thackeray and Paul Anderton have much to be proud of, and as part of The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival, ‘Cuts From The Fringe’ proved to be a tremendous showcase for new talent. I loved every minute.


Robert said...

Congratulations to the whole team! Wish I could have been there. It's a lovely review and sounds like it was a wonderful night.

Chandra said...
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Mister_Benn said...


Sounds like this was a great night out.

As a JB Shorts regular - and a Lass O'Gowrie + Kings Arms occasional attendee - I wish I'd been aware of this.

The only thing I ever went to upstairs at the Town Hall Tavern was some years ago at the Comedy Festival (RIP).

Abroad during Brighton's excellent May Fringe Festival, I'll have to keep a closer eye on the Manchester Fringe during 2014!